Jessica Simpson, Smiling Up a Storm

Jessica Simpson on Capitol Hill
The star promoted her cause on the Hill but reportedly balked at a partisan fundraiser. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, March 17, 2006

Jessica Simpson is 30 minutes late; the scrum in Room 1539 of the Longworth House Office Building is getting vicious. AP, People and "Inside Edition" are here, bumping up against Christian Broadcasting Network, ESPN, Modern Health Care -- all snarling for a good angle. Bystanders pack the halls, camera phones poised. Then squeals, and Simpson walks through the crowd, her publicist leading the way. She looks around and giggles.

The 25-year-old blond singer/reality star/Pizza Hut spokeswoman is the International Youth Ambassador for Operation Smile, a nonprofit medical charity that repairs facial deformities for Third-World children. Of all the good works needed in this world, how did Simpson pick this project? Her hairdresser's nephew had a cleft palate. In the midst of shooting her new movie and splitting from soon-to-be-ex Nick Lachey , she jets in yesterday for a day of lobbying.

"That's Jessica Simpson !" says one Hill staffer. The jaw actually drops.

Our star is smaller in person (aren't they all?) and dressed like a proper lobbyist -- black pantsuit, pearl earrings, hair tucked conservatively in a loose bun. The pantsuit actually belongs to Simpson's makeup artist because, we're told, the dress she was planning to wear "split."

"Thank you guys so much !" Simpson exclaims. She talks about observing the surgery of a little girl on a trip to Africa last fall. "It was a very spiritual moment," she says, "and made me realize the purpose of life is to go through it smiling." She calls plastic surgeon Bill Magee , founder of the charity, an "angel."

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who has had 10 operations for his cleft palate, says: "Maybe God sends people like Jessica to the earth to make everyone smile." Magee says it's time to stop "paying lip service" and give some sorely needed funding to the cause. He calls it a "serious day" and Simpson a "serious woman."

" Jessica !" a reporter shouts at the first moment of silence. Why is she skipping the National Republican Congressional Committee dinner Thursday night? Simpson is hustled out of the room.

Now, this the real buzz. "Simpson's Snub" headlines have been threatening to sink all the do-gooding of the day. The celebrity reportedly turned down an invitation to the GOP gala and a photo op with President Bush because she didn't want to mix her nonpartisan cause with a partisan fundraiser. Publicist Rob Shuter says she was never confirmed to attend; father-manager Joe Simpson says the details were "never worked out." But NRCC spokesman Carl Forti says she was "100 percent most definitely" locked in and had arranged to attend the VIP reception with the president, but pulled out late Wednesday afternoon.

How's the starlet handling the fuss? Shuter says, "I don't think she's fully aware what's going on." She's been too busy preparing.

Simpson flees to a private lunch with congressional folk, where, sources say, she cries about the children. Meanwhile, her handlers furiously try to hook up for a quick grip-and-grin with the president. When that doesn't work out, her father puts out the word that she greatly admires Bush.

"We are huge fans of him and of his family, his girls," he tells Associated Press. "Jessica loves the heck out of him."

After the lunch, a crowd of reporters stand outside a women's bathroom for 10 minutes waiting for a sound bite. She emerges, poses for pictures with Capitol Police, but doesn't answer questions.

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