At about 3 p.m. Tuesday, civil rights hero John Lewis (D-Ga.) rose in a nearly-empty House chamber to express his support for a resolution recognizing the slaves who toiled and died while building the Capitol.
At almost the same moment, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) took the stage at the sold-out Staples Center in Los Angeles, where she vowed to bestow a similar honor on the King of Pop.
Jackson-Lee's 1,500 word resolution honoring Michael Jackson as a "global humanitarian" may be symbolic and heartfelt, but it's causing some nonsymbolic heartburn for the Democratic House leadership.
Between high-stakes fights over climate change and health care reform, Democrats will now have to moonwalk through the minefield of Jackson's oddball behavior, drug abuse and relationships with young children - all in the politically perilous geography of race relations in America.
"There's no appetite for this," one House Democrat told POLITICO. "We have too many other things to deal with right now."
But it's not as easy as that.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) needs to stay in the good graces of the Congressional Black Caucus. And while CBC members were reportedly lukewarm on Jackson-Lee's resolution initially, they now may have little choice but to rally around it.
Staffers say CBC members don't want to be seen as caving into Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who called Jackson a "lowlife" and a "pervert" in a widely viewed YouTube video. And it will be hard for caucus members not to back Jackson-Lee's resolution after she held a framed copy aloft during the late pop star's nationally televised memorial service.
Still, Democrats from conservative districts are almost visibly queasy about the prospect of honoring Jackson further. When CBC members called for a moment of silence for Jackson on the House floor last month, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) walked out. He said he was "nauseated" by the tribute - and that he was hardly the only Democratic member who felt that way.
"The cloakroom was pretty well packed," Yarmuth told a Los Angeles radio station. "I think there were a lot of people who were disgusted by it."
Complete coverage of Jackson's death
Democratic aides said privately Tuesday that it's unlikely the House will pass Jackson-Lee's resolution, which includes a recitation of nearly every charitable contribution Jackson made in the last quarter-century. And King vows to make the process as painful as possible by demanding a roll call vote.
"I'm telling you, the Democrats won't get the two-thirds they'll need to pass it," King told POLITICO. "My sense is that this is the last thing the House Democratic leadership wants to deal with."
King seems to be relishing his role as the anti-Jackson, but his YouTube video has brought a backlash, uniting African-American politicians and activists who may not have regarded Jackson as a major black figure before he came under attack.
Joni Reynolds, a columnist with The Daily Voice, an African-American website that focuses on current events called King's remarks a "hateful tirade" and stood up for the King of Pop.
"Michael Jackson settled out of court in the early nineties when he was accused of child abuse. In 2005 he was acquitted of all charges," Reynolds wrote.
"How dare Rep. King utter such scandalous and outlandish comments about Michael Jackson, when he has never opened his mouth to criticize his own colleagues who have been were accused of morally reprehensible, criminal or indecent acts and were forced to resign from public office," Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said in a statement sent to reporters. "Michael Jackson was found innocent of the allegation against him and has never been classified in any court as being a pedophile."
King said Tuesday that he stands by his statement about Jackson.
King watched enough of Tuesday's memorial service to see Jackson-Lee speak. Others on the Hill apparently watched much more; House Internet servers nearly crashed during the service for the singer, and tech officials dispatched an e-mail warning offices that the crush of staffers watching on computers was causing major Internet slowness.
Jackson-Lee's office said that she hadn't planned to attend the ceremony but decided to go after Jackson's brother Jermaine - touched by her resolution - called to offer a personal invitation.
Jackson-Lee first met Michael Jackson in 2004, when she escorted him on a tour of Walter Reed, where he met with wounded soldiers from Iraq. At the memorial service Tuesday, she raised her hand in a military-style salute to the late singer.
"America appreciates and thanks you for Michael Jackson's life," she said as she clutched her resolution. "We have introduced into the House of Representatives this Resolution 600 that will be debated on the floor of the House that claims Michael Jackson as an American legend and musical icon, a world humanitarian - someone who will be honored forever and forever and forever and forever."
Written by Glenn Thrush