Congress Loves Itself Some Ben Affleck

Members of both parties lauded the actor-director for his work, and John McCain enjoyed some banter.

Ben Affleck speaks during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Evolving Security Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Implications for U.S. National Security at Rayburn House Office Building on Dec. 19, 2012.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Feb. 27, 2014, 6:43 a.m.

Mem­bers of Con­gress can’t agree on much of any­thing these days — but on Wed­nes­day, they made an ex­cep­tion for Ben Af­fleck, lav­ish­ing praise on the act­or-dir­ect­or for his work in Africa.

Af­fleck test­i­fied be­fore an un­usu­ally packed Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee about the Demo­crat­ic Re­pub­lic of the Congo, high­light­ing his work with the East­ern Congo Ini­ti­at­ive, a non­profit ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tion he foun­ded.

Less than a minute in­to the hear­ing, Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Men­en­dez thanked Af­fleck, or as he and oth­er sen­at­ors pro­nounced it “Aff-lack,” for “clearly draw­ing so much at­ten­tion” to the is­sue, say­ing Af­fleck will be “long re­membered as a ser­i­ous, thought­ful act­iv­ist.”

And Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona, whose wife, Cindy Mc­Cain, works with Af­fleck, had a run­ning banter with the act­or, at one point in­ter­rupt­ing fel­low Re­pub­lic­an Sen. James Risch, who was com­pli­ment­ing Af­fleck on his self­less­ness, say­ing dryly, “I can as­sure you, it’s also par­tially about him.”

“That’s funny. I’ve al­ways con­sidered Sen­at­or Mc­Cain the real celebrity. That’s one thing he and I have in com­mon,” Af­fleck shot back, gar­ner­ing laughter from com­mit­tee mem­bers and at­tendees.

Af­fleck is by no means the first celebrity to ap­pear be­fore Con­gress — George Clooney had staffers trail­ing him through Dirk­sen two years ago — in what is es­sen­tially a mu­tu­ally be­ne­fi­cial situ­ation. Celebrit­ies get to tout pet pro­jects and causes, while lend­ing a mega­phone to con­gres­sion­al is­sues that would of­ten be over­looked oth­er­wise.

And des­pite the, at times, light­hearted in­ter­ac­tions — Sen. Ed­ward Mar­key of Mas­sachu­setts called him a “ho­met­own hero” be­cause of his Bo­ston roots — Af­fleck and oth­er speak­ers, in­clud­ing Rus­sell Fein­gold, a former sen­at­or and cur­rent spe­cial en­voy to the Great Lakes re­gion of Africa and the DRC, delved in­to what could be done to help the Afric­an coun­try that has dealt with dis­ease and nearly con­stant vi­ol­ence as groups fought over nat­ur­al re­sources, in­clud­ing gold and cop­per.

Fein­gold called on the United States to boost its fin­an­cial sup­port of the Congo’s elec­tions, which are ex­pec­ted to place between now and 2016.

Al­though Af­fleck began his testi­mony to a shower of cam­era-shut­ter clicks and some humble­ness — not­ing that “to state the ob­vi­ous,” he is “not a Congo ex­pert” — he did have a hand­ful of sug­ges­tions for Con­gress and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

His pro­pos­als ranged from main­tain­ing sup­port for Fein­gold and Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry, whom Af­fleck met with earli­er in the day, to call­ing on the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tion­al De­vel­op­ment to up its eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment in the coun­try.

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