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Coleman Grill-ed

In a private rebuffing somewhat akin to a college hazing, freshman Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) got a bit of a tongue-lashing from Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) at a closed-door meeting of centrists on Tuesday.

After serving all of two months in the chamber,

Coleman decided to mix it up with members of the so-called “Snowe-Breaux” group for trying to put together a letter that would have raised questions about the effectiveness of President Bush’s $674 billion tax cut.

Insiders say Coleman exhorted colleagues that they “can’t hurt the president like this” by offering a rival plan. And some people felt that he raised questions about the effectiveness of the centrists themselves during the meeting held in the office of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

Coleman told HOH that he was not questioning the effectiveness of the centrist. The Senator was merely expressing frustration about the overall partisanship of the Senate, saying he’s concerned about whether anything can get done in such a combustible environment.

“I was really wary about signing a letter that is going to be used to hammer the president,” he said of the letter, which was going to urge the creation of a study commission to review the effectiveness of ending the double taxation of dividends.

In the meeting, Coleman also slammed Democrats for filibustering the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada, claiming the atmosphere was so poisonous that the centrists are unlikely to be able to bridge the gap between the parties.

That was too much for Breaux, who was not up for a lecture. “You’re sitting across the table from two Democrats who have said they’re voting for Estrada,” an angered Breaux shot back, referring to himself and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

“He corrected me,” Coleman confirmed. “I think he was trying to make a point — don’t put him in the boat with everyone else.”

Some of the participants were surprised to hear Coleman, who campaigned last year as someone who was independent-minded, rush to Bush’s defense so aggressively.

“Norm Coleman likes to think he’s a moderate and came to Washington to help President Bush change the tone,” griped one individual familiar with the meeting. “And the first thing he did when he got here was change his tune.”

After speaking to Breaux, a spokesman said the Senator had no comment on the private meeting.

Upsetting the Apple Cart. It didn’t take Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) long to fire back at for scoring her performance as “below average” in the online political newsletter’s second annual rankings of the New York Congressional delegation.

The Web site actually upgraded her from last year’s “poor” rating, but that was not enough for Maloney. So for the second straight year, she has lashed out at the Web site — managing only to bring even more attention on the fact that she has gotten poor marks.

“We ripped Maloney in our Congressional ratings last year — and we received more e-mail blasting us and defending her than we could count,” the site said in this year’s rundown. “We still think she’s a lightweight. But we’re big enough to admit that the large number of people to go on the record to support her was impressive. Now if only Congresswoman Maloney were as good at representing her constituents as they are at defending her.”

Maloney quickly responded with a long letter griping that she was “disappointed by your recent, rather arbitrary rating” of the delegation. She proceeded to cite a litany of positive media stories about her, and complained that while some colleagues got credit for “bringing home the bacon,” she was never lauded for her efforts to revive the Second Avenue Subway.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D) also took one on the chin, going from “average” to “below average” in the rankings. “Can anyone forget Ackerman’s crass attempt to exploit figure skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes’ upset win at the Olympics last year?” asked the site. “Just moments after Hughes found out that she had won the gold, Ackerman dialed up the champion to congratulate her on national television.”

Even the dean of the delegation, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D), dropped from “excellent” to “very good” amid a suggestion that he may retire and “seems to have lost a step lately.”

There are some kudos, such as “excellent” ratings for four New Yorkers, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D), Tom Reynolds (R), John Sweeney (R) and Anthony Weiner (D).

But the bulk of the grading packs plenty of punches, such as the charge that Rep. Peter King (R), “an author of books that sell poorly, is no Stephen King.”

Oh, Doctor. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is trying to revive the tradition of freshman lawmakers delivering official “maiden speeches,” which used to be a staple of the chamber.

In a bygone era, newcomers would not be allowed to speak on the Senate floor until they had delivered a “maiden speech” to a packed chamber. The speech itself would be scheduled a few months into the new Congress with a large contingent of colleagues at least pretending to pay rapt attention on an issue near and dear to the freshman’s heart.

No more. Folks can simply watch the action on C-SPAN2 these days, so freshmen often give a purely forgettable first speech to an empty chamber whenever they feel like breaking the ice.

But Frist undertook a revival of the tradition on Tuesday, when he carved out 30 minutes for freshman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to deliver remarks on the need to bring “American History and Civics Back to Our Public Schools.”

“Other ‘maiden speeches’ will be scheduled over the next several weeks,” Frist wrote to colleagues. “New Members should see me to work out appropriate scheduling of these important addresses.”

Showing up to listen might be a good way to get on the good side of the Majority Leader, who plans “to be on the floor” for the talks.

House, er, Senate Calls. While no one will ever mistake former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s (D) presidential campaign as an appeal to Beltway insiders, the doctor isn’t completely blowing off the Democratic Congressional leadership.

The man who began his stump speech to Democratic activists two weeks ago with an attack on his party’s Congressional leaders stopped in Tuesday for a visit with Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), following on the heels of a fundraiser at the Capitol City Brewery near Union Station.

Dean said Tuesday’s visit with Reid was polite and cordial. HOH presumes that he didn’t begin his talk with his attack line of “I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” — which is borrowed from the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

Dean said that his meeting with Reid, coming on the heels of a meeting a week or so ago with Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), is part of an effort to keep open the lines of communication with Democratic leaders on the Hill, who will have to be key allies if he goes on to win the nomination next year.

“I don’t want to be in a position of not having relationships up here,” he explained.

But the doctor-turned-politician isn’t expecting many endorsements from Members of Congress — other than Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) — especially since there are a half-dozen lawmakers already running for the nomination.

“We’ve got a ways to go before we raise expectations — at least in this building,” Dean said as his Beltway volunteer, lobbyist Terry Lierman, showed him around the Senate side of the Capitol.

While he may not win their bosses’ endorsements, Dean is clearly hoping to tap into the energy and enthusiasm of Hill staffers. Lierman said the fundraiser was originally scheduled to be held in the upstairs room at Politiki on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, but then was moved to the Phoenix Park Hotel and then moved again to Cap City — all because the anticipated crowd kept growing. In the end, 400 people attended, with Lierman estimating two-thirds of the audience was made up of Hill staffers or students from nearby colleges.

But the size of the crowd didn’t translate into a sizeable take from the event. It was $50 a head to get in, and it’s unclear how many students forked over cash to hear Dean speak.

Cardona’s New Gig. Maria Cardona, a former spokeswoman at the Democratic National Committee, has been named the new vice president of media relations at the New Democrat Network.

She will head the centrist group’s expanding Hispanic outreach project.

Paul Kane and Brody Mullins contributed to this report.

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