At Republican lunch, U.S. senators mesmerized by live stream of Alaska bears

A brown bear near a river in Alaska. (Bob Strong/Alaska)
Thousands of people around the world are again thrilling at the sight of brown bears fishing at Brooks Falls (Southwest Alaska), now that the Katmai National Park has fired up Bear Cam for another season. Even U.S. senators got in on the joy, and that’s not the only Alaska delight the senators sampled from afar.

It’s been a heavy week in Congress, and the Senate isn’t known as a fun-loving place on a normal day, with all the formal tedium, the perpetual observations about absent quorums and time expiring.

But here’s something you won’t see on C-SPAN: Almost every Thursday, Republican senators meet behind closed doors, just outside the chamber, for a theme lunch. Whichever senator is hosting brings food and treats from his or her home state. It’s been going on since the 1970s. This week, it was Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan’s turn.

“You can almost smell the aroma right now,” Sullivan teased from the Senate floor. “We’re baking it in the kitchen here. Salmon, halibut, reindeer sausage.”

And there was more. Caesar salad from Alaska-grown kale. Potato salad from Alaska spuds. Ice tea with Alaska mint. And rhubarb. Some of the veggies came from Meyers Farm in Bethel (southwest Alaska).

“Arguably, it’s a giant brag session amongst their colleagues,” Sullivan spokesman Matt Shuckerow said. He said the Thursday lunches are an opportunity for comradery, policy discussions and a chance for the host senator to highlight issues of importance to his state.

The bears steal the show

The big hit, though, at the Sullivan lunch was the two large screens showing live Katmai Bear Cam. Sullivan says the senators could hardly focus on anything else.

“You can have the leader of the U.S. Senate up talking and you have all the senators looking, and they’re not looking at Mitch,” Sullivan said. “They’re, like, looking at the bears. It’s hilarious.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski agreed: Nothing could compete with video feed of bears lunging for salmon.

“All of this important stuff is being talked about and no one is listening,” Murkowski said, “Because we’re – ‘There! He got it! He got it!’”

Party favors are customary at these lunches. Sullivan gave out goody bags that included salmon jerky and a can of Alaska-brewed beer. The hosts aren’t allowed to spend government money on the lunch. Shuckerow says Sullivan used campaign funds.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: From the Arctic to Atlantic, a photographer documents seal hunting in Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finnish live stream gives users bird’s eye view of eagle’s nest, YLE News

Norway: In Arctic Norway, seabirds build nests out of plastic waste, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia plans fenced parks to confine reindeer herding in Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Poachers suspected behind dwindling wolf numbers in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Low fish numbers force closure of king salmon fishing in part of Alaska, Alaska Public Media

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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