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."
Earlier on HuffPost:
Tom Petty vs. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) might be an "American Girl," but rocker Tom Petty doesn't want her using his song to say it. Bachmann closed her <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/27/michele-bachmann-2012-president_n_860215.html" target="_hplink">presidential campaign announcement</a> on Monday by playing Petty's hit single, only to have the Heartbreakers frontman <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/06/tom-petty-reportedly-issuing-cease-and-desist-letter-to-bachmann/" target="_hplink">respond</a> with a cease-and-desist letter. (Skip to 21:30 for Bachmann's exit)
David Byrne vs. Charlie Crist
During his unsuccessful independent bid for Senate in 2010, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist used the Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere" in a web video targeting Republican candidate and eventual victor Marco Rubio. Talking Heads singer David Byrne <a href="http://www.aolnews.com/2010/05/25/talking-heads-rocker-sues-crist-for-using-song-in-ad/" target="_hplink">quickly sued</a> Crist for $1 million, claiming the song's placement implied his support for Crist's campaign. The two parties came to an agreement earlier this year. According to the Associated Press, the terms of the settlement were not released, but it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/12/charlie-crist-apologizes-_n_847980.html" target="_hplink">included an apology by Crist</a> that was posted on YouTube. Video of the apology is above.
Sam Moore vs. Barack Obama
Sam Moore, half of famed soul duo Sam & Dave, pushed back against then-candidate Barack Obama's use of their hit song "Hold On, I'm Comin'" during 2008 campaign rallies. Obama's camp <a href="http://www.volunteertv.com/election/headlines/15935747.html" target="_hplink">reportedly</a> honored Moore's request and stopped playing the song.
Heart vs. John McCain
Nancy and Ann Wilson of the band Heart <a href="http://www.eonline.com/uberblog/b27431_republicans_take_heart_heart_takes_it.html" target="_hplink">strongly protested</a> the McCain campaign's use of their song "Barracuda" to introduce Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention (Palin's high school nickname was "Barracuda"). McCain's camp <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/09/05/mccain-campaign-to-go-heart-less/" target="_hplink">replied</a> that they had taken the appropriate measures to use the song legally. "The McCain campaign respects intellectual property rights. Accordingly, prior to using 'Barracuda' at any events, we paid for and obtained all necessary licenses," a spokesperson told the <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/09/05/mccain-campaign-to-go-heart-less/" target="_hplink"><em>Wall Street Journal</em></a>.
Rush vs. Rand Paul
A lawyer for Canadian rock trio Rush <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/06/rush-songs-not-for-rent-to-rand-paul.php" target="_hplink">told</a> then-Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul in 2010 that his campaign didn't have permission to use their song "Tom Sawyer" in a promotional web video. Another song, "Spirit of the Radio," had also not been authorized for use at Paul's rallies, the lawyer claimed. After the complaint, the Paul campaign <a href="http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20100602/NEWS01/6020413/Rock+band+Rush+says+Rand+Paul+s+campaign+can+t+use+its+songs" target="_hplink">reportedly</a> cut the soundtrack from the ad and stopped using Rush's music at campaign events. (Above: "Tom Sawyer" by Rush)
Foo Fighters vs. John McCain
The Foo Fighters <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/08/foo-fighters-tell-mccain_n_133104.html" target="_hplink">accused</a> John McCain of "pervert[ing] the original sentiment of the lyric[s]" to their song "My Hero" in a 2008 letter asking his campaign to stop using their music for promotional use. The McCain camp responded: "The McCain-Palin campaign respects copyright. Accordingly, this campaign has obtained and paid for licenses from performing rights organizations, giving us permission to play millions of different songs, including 'My Hero.'"
Jackson Browne vs. John McCain
Classic rocker Jackson Browne <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/jackson-browne-sues-john-mccain-over-campaign-commercial-20080814" target="_hplink">sued</a> the 2008 presidential candidate, the RNC and the Ohio Republican Party for allegedly using his song "Running on Empty" in a web video without permission. In 2009, nearly a year after filing the lawsuit, Browne emerged victorious. The defendants <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/sleuth/2009/07/john_mccain_really_running_on.html?hpid=news-col-blog" target="_hplink">wrote</a> at the time: <blockquote>"We apologize that a portion of the Jackson Browne song 'Running On Empty' was used without permission. Although Senator McCain had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the creation or distribution of the Web campaign video, Senator McCain does not support or condone any actions taken by anyone involved in his 2008 presidential election campaign that were inconsistent with artists' rights or the various legal protections afforded to intellectual property."</blockquote>
Tom Scholz vs. Mike Huckabee
Former GOP presidential candidate and bass player Mike Huckabee <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/2008-02-15-2423430427_x.htm" target="_hplink">made a habit</a> of pulling out his four-string and playing Boston's "More Than a Feeling" on the campaign trail in 2008. That didn't please Tom Scholz, founder of the classic rock band and writer of the song. In a letter to Huckabee, Scholz asked the Arkansas governor to stop playing the ballad, saying that he'd "been ripped off." Huckabee's camp <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/2008-02-15-2423430427_x.htm" target="_hplink">called the complaint ridiculous</a>. Click over to <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/more-than-a-feeling-writer-says-mike-huckabee-has-caused-him-damage-20080214" target="_hplink"><em>Rolling Stone</em></a> for Scholz's entire letter to Huckabee. (Above: Mike Huckabee's band, Capitol Offense, plays Boston's "More Than A Feeling")
Van Halen vs. John McCain
Van Halen <a href="http://www.tmz.com/2008/08/29/van-halen-to-mccain-no-you-cant" target="_hplink">expressed</a> displeasure with McCain's use of their song "Right Now" during a campaign event in 2008, claiming that "permission was not sought or granted, nor would it have been given." While the rock band was agitated, there were no reports of legal action at the time.
Bruce Springsteen vs. Ronald Reagan
Springsteen was famously <a href="http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/facing_the_music/" target="_hplink">upset</a> by Ronald Reagan's (<a href="http://bigthink.com/ideas/19039" target="_hplink">ironic</a>) use of his song "Born in the USA" for the Gipper's 1984 re-election campaign. The Associated Press <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/2008-08-28-1306127979_x.htm" target="_hplink">reports</a> that "Springsteen, a Democrat, bristled at his art being invoked for causes he opposed," though no formal motion was ever filed to bar Reagan from using the song.
John Hall vs. George Bush, John McCain
John Hall, co-founder of rock band Orleans and a former congressman himself, <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1031-22.htm" target="_hplink">complained</a> in 2004 that George W. Bush was using the band's song "Still the One" without permission. The Bush camp removed it from its playlist following Hall's cease-and-desist order. Four years later, Hall, then serving as a House Democrat from New York, filed a <a href="http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2008/06/13/4436027-rep-to-mccain-stop-using-my-song" target="_hplink">similar complaint</a> against McCain's campaign, calling it "yet another example of John McCain not learning anything from George Bush's mistakes." McCain's campaign stopped using the track soon thereafter, MSNBC <a href="http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2008/06/13/4436027-rep-to-mccain-stop-using-my-song" target="_hplink">reported</a>.