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Hillary Sacks New Jersey

If Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) launches a presidential campaign in 2008 (or sooner), she may have a hard time carrying the neighboring state of New Jersey.

As Clinton headed out of CNN pundit Paul Begala’s book party at The Palm behind an offensive line of Secret Service agents and press aides, HOH jokingly asked whether she planned a Senate investigation of the bungled call by NFL officials that helped doom the New York Giants in a playoff game.

“I watched the game — we wuz robbed!” a suddenly animated Clinton said, mimicking a certain New York tabloid’s treatment of the NFL screw-up.

Clinton then turned to spokesman Philippe Reines. “We should so something about this,” she said of a Senate probe of the NFL, before noting that another New York football

team is still alive in the playoffs. “But I don’t want to get greedy because the Jets are doing so good.”

Rooting for both teams is the only safe move since Clinton faced so much political grief for suddenly becoming a baseball fan of the New York Yankees (and all but dropping her childhood support of the Chicago Cubs) in the early stages of her Senate campaign. Besides raising questions of credibility, it offended some constituents by snubbing the New York Mets.

But Clinton proved that she now has done her homework on such matters, carefully noting the existence of the Buffalo Bills by saying she roots “for all three of the New York teams.”

But don’t the Jets and Giants actually play in New Jersey? “Well, I’ve always considered New Jersey a suburb of New York,” cracked Clinton.

With visions of what the New York tabloids might do with that one-liner — “Hill to Jersey: Drop Dead” — a phone call had to be placed to “freshman” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who has returned to the chamber after a two-year absence and is eager to renew the friendly battle between the delegations.

“I’m back and I’m ready to defend New Jersey and its pride and prominence and its teams,” said Lautenberg, adding of Clinton: “It’s funny because we both have the same perspective: I’ve always considered New York a suburb of New Jersey.”

Then Lautenberg added a jab about Gotham’s budget woes. “We invite New Yorkers to come across the Hudson River as often as they like and by the way, we’re not going to charge them any commuter tax even if they come to every home game,” he said.

Lautenberg, by the way, is getting on just fine, even though he’s been stuck on the eighth floor of the Hart Senate Office Building. With his past 18 years of seniority, he decided to skip any freshman orientation. “I just had them lay out a floor plan of where the restrooms and cafeterias are,” he joked.

Mister Sterling. A fictional Roll Call reporter and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews take turns starring in “Mister Sterling,” NBC’s new show about the Senate that debuts Friday night.

The show is trying to be the Congressional version of NBC’s hit “The West Wing” and was written by Lawrence O’Donnell, onetime chief of staff for then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).

Without giving away too much of the first few episodes, the show focuses on William Sterling Jr., a political neophyte from California who gets appointed to replace a deceased Senator. A female scribe for Roll Call breaks a major story about the new lawmaker and winds up appearing on MSNBC’s “Hardball” to tout the scoop.

One priceless scene that will be enjoyed by staffers on both sides of Capitol Hill features the new guy heading to the Capitol for his swearing-in ceremony. In the backseat of the cab, the starry-eyed Sterling tells his grizzled chief of staff that he wants to get an education grant for a school back home as his first act in office.

“I don’t know anything about stuff like that,” says the top aide, pushing the task off on the legislative director. “He’ll know.”

“What do you know?” asks Sterling.

“I do big-picture stuff actually — re-election, campaign strategy,” replied the chief of staff. “I don’t want to toot my own horn here or anything but I was the biggest campaign money raiser in the Senate last cycle.”

Another delicious moment comes when Sterling kisses the ring of the Senate Finance chairman in a vain attempt to get a seat on the powerful committee. The chairman has a black dog that, in O’Donnell’s efforts to make it look somewhat genuine, looks suspiciously familiar to Splash, Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) pooch.

Reservations Required. In addition to displacing some staffers to double- and triple-wide trailers because of its effect on Capitol office space, construction of the Capitol Visitor Center is also having some gastronomical implications.

The popular Members-only buffet section of the House Dining Room is having to relocate to room H-120 of the Capitol for the time being. The more confined digs mean that reservations will be necessary on busy work days.

“This change may place a premium on table availability on the waiter-served side of the Members’ Dining Room on high-volume business days, generally Wednesdays and Thursdays,” House Chief Administrative Officer Jay Eagen warned in a “Dear Colleague” letter.

While the restaurant may not exactly be as good as Signatures or the Capital Grille, Eagen said it’s a convenient spot for lawmakers to hobnob and eat between votes, and therefore a special “Members-only reservation service is being implemented.”

But if all else fails, a five-spot might help Members get a table in a pinch.

Greener Pastures. While Members are just beginning the battle over an economic-recovery package, several former lawmakers and ex-Hill staffers have already done a good job of stimulating their own bank accounts with new posts on K Street.

Business is especially good for Republicans, thanks to the GOP trifecta of controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress. Former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who was bounced from office by Sen. Mark Pryor (D), has landed nicely at the firm Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP. He will focus on homeland security, health care, defense, agriculture, education and transportation issues.

Former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) has signed up with Johnston & Associates LLC. That may have something to do with the fact that he’s married to Sally Johnston, daughter of former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), who runs the firm.

As Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) embarks on the heavy lifting of passing the stimulus package, he will do so without his senior adviser, Jason Poblete. Poblete, a savvy insider who previously served as press secretary when Thomas chaired the House Administration Committee, has landed a plum post with the prestigious firm Reed Smith LLP.

Roger Morse, a former legislative director for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), has been snapped up by Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP. For the past eight years, he has also served as chairman of the Conservative Staff Meeting, a group of 100 House GOP aides that helps develop policy.

And then there’s former Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), who’s always a special case. The scandal-plagued Torricelli, who’s probably still wondering when we became such an unforgiving nation, has designs on becoming a real estate developer in the blighted city of Camden, N.J.

An aide to Gwendolyn Faison, the city’s mayor, gushed to The Associated Press that Torricelli doing business in the city could give Camden the same kind of boost that former President Bill Clinton gave Harlem, N.Y., by moving his office there.

But Camden City Councilman Ali Sloan El told the AP that it will not be a good thing if Torricelli benefits from the planned $175 million infusion of state funds to attract private investment in the city.

“It’s for the people,” he said. “But the people will not see the money.”

No word on whether Torricelli will try to bring a big-screen TV store to the city. Or how about a new tailor shop?

Amy Keller contributed to this report.

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