WASHINGTON -- Stephen Colbert was the surprise guest at the annual House Democratic retreat on Friday, taking part in a Q&A with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- sometimes as himself, other times in character as the mock conservative pundit he plays on Comedy Central -- and even singing a duet with Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).
According to a source in the room who requested anonymity, Pelosi introduced Colbert's character as someone who considers himself "a dyed in the wool conservative" modeled after conservative show host Bill O'Reilly, "a man he affectionately calls 'Papa Bear.'" She then tried to convince Colbert to become a Democrat.
"Governor Nikki Haley rejected you," Pelosi said, referring to the South Carolina governor denying Colbert's Senate bid in that state last year. "We will welcome you with open arms."
Colbert then ran out on stage, as he does on his show, and received a standing ovation. Staying in character, he gave formal remarks from a podium. The meeting was closed to the press.
Colbert told lawmakers that "Republicans' loss in November has them soul searching ... whether or not they have souls," the source said.
On the issue of whether House Democrats will win back the House in 2014, Colbert said he's not sure Americans care either way. Congress is "less popular than colonoscopies," he said, "but just edging out meth labs and gonorrhea. Ironically, the last things we make in the United States."
Colbert described his relationship with Pelosi as being "best frenemies." He said they have disagreed in the past, "and today, we will disagree in the future."
Colbert then sat down with Pelosi for a Q&A. He spoke mostly as himself, but lapsed into character here and there, according to the source in the room.
On his sister Elizabeth Colbert Busch running for Congress, he said, "She's going to win." Colbert added that he dissolved his super PAC so it wouldn't be involved in her race. Her called his sister "tough as nails."
If she wins, will she have to do the "Better Know a District" segment on his show, where lawmakers come on and talk about sometimes bizarre facts about their district? "Yes, I have a few questions for her from her eighth-grade diary," he said.
Members got in a few questions, too, the source said. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) asked what side Colbert's character was on in the so-called "war on women."
"Some of my best friends are women," he said. "I spent nine months in one."
Freshman Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) asked about politicians going on Colbert's show and making themselves look silly. Colbert said the only politician who's really blown it was Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), who touted his legislation to mandate public placement of the Ten Commandments, but then could only name three of them.
"He set himself on fire," Colbert said.
Asked why more House members aren't on the show, Colbert laid the blame on their party leader.
"Someone who will remain Nancy Pelosi-less told Democrats to stop coming on the show," he said.
In the end, Crowley came on stage and sang the Star Spangled banner with Colbert, who did most of it "in dramatic harmony," per the source in the room.
As for why Colbert was at the retreat in the first place, a Democratic leadership aide said only, "Pelosi asked him."