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As has been long expected but never officially acknowledged, Mitch Bainwol is leaving as chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

Bainwol, who steered the National Republican Senatorial Committee last cycle as executive director before setting up the new leader’s office, has been telling friends on the Hill and on K Street that he will be off the Frist payroll “soon after the upcoming recess.”

No successor has been named yet, but sources say Frist would pick a

replacement soon and have someone in place after the recess ends in late April. Frist’s office declined to comment on a potential successor and Bainwol would not discuss his plans.

Bainwol is widely expected to reactivate The Bainwol Group, the firm he had started after the GOP’s victorious midterm elections. Back in December, Bainwol told HOH the firm would do a mix of public relations, media consulting and coalition building, as well as some lobbying. No word on whether his initial two clients, the American Insurance Association and Freddie Mac, are still on board — but it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t want the services of the man with the Majority Leader’s ear.

Bainwol jokingly refers to the firm’s first life as those “glorious three weeks.” Those, of course, would be three weeks that Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) thinks were anything but glorious. Lott’s demise as GOP leader led to Frist’s ascension, and with so much turmoil in leadership ranks, Frist was able to coax Bainwol into running the show — but only on a temporary basis.

For the sake of his children’s education funds, here’s hoping this attempt to go to the private sector lasts longer this his previous two efforts. After 13 years with then-Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), Bainwol left the Senate in 1997 to serve as chief of staff at the Republican National Committee, a post he left in early 1999, when he made his first run at making the big bucks at Clark & Weinstock. But he found himself getting dragged back into the political sector, taking a leave from the firm to serve as executive director of the platform committee for the 2000 GOP convention and then a permanent leave to become executive director of the NRSC in early 2001.

His second attempt at the private sector, of course, lasted just three weeks.

“It’s going to be difficult to replace Mitch. He’s got the unusual quality of understanding politics and policy,” said Don Fierce, a partner at Fierce and Isakowitz.

Fierce said his pal Bainwol would be gone “within a month,” though the staffer will remain a key outside adviser to Frist.

Possible replacements for Bainwol could come from right inside Frist’s leadership office, including Marty Gold or Eric Ueland. Gold, a premier lobbyist who was a top aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), officially joined the leadership office to tutor Frist on the ins and outs of parliamentary expertise. Some of Gold’s former K Street cronies, however, don’t expect him to stay on with Frist for much more than a year.

Ueland would be an ironic choice, considering his former boss, Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), took such a high-profile role in Lott’s demise. Ueland has been with Frist since January as a senior adviser but only in a “transition” staff capacity.

Of course, Frist could also decide to promote a loyal aide from his personal office as well, such as chief of staff Howard Liebengood, also a veteran of Baker’s tenure as leader. Stay tuned.

Foley’s Follies. Even some fellow Republicans were repulsed by a war-related fundraising letter that Rep. Mark Foley (Fla.) sent out Wednesday for his nascent Senate campaign.

The e-mail pitch, which was sent out at 2:30 p.m., went so far as to reference an intelligence briefing that Foley was about to attend. Republicans were also not pleased that the Congressman appeared to be less than enthused about the progress of the war.

“As you might expect, the mood here in Washington is one of cautious optimism as we witness events unfolding in Iraq,” Foley wrote to contributors. “In about 1/2 an hour, I will be joining my fellow Congressional colleagues for a briefing with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the most recent developments in our efforts to liberate Iraq.

“I have been encouraged by early developments in the region that continue to demonstrate the tremendous courageousness of our men and women in uniform.”

Then comes the pitch: “Here at home, we continue to make great progress on the campaign trail. As you know, I have spent the last two months traveling around the state of Florida laying the groundwork for a U.S. Senate campaign. This effort has gone extremely well. Already, we’ve generated significant support in communities across the state.”

Foley proceeded to urge his friends to donate money to his campaign before next Monday’s March 31 deadline with the Federal Election Commission so he will show strong first-quarter numbers in this cycle.

“The Florida and Washington media will all be closely examining the fundraising reports of the likely contenders to separate those candidates who will be able to run a credible race and those who will not,” he wrote. “I would ask you to take a moment today to consider making as generous a contribution as you possibly can to our campaign. These first reports are critical to establishing an early lead among the field of potential candidates.”

As one GOP strategist told HOH, “With men and women in harm’s way, it just sickens your stomach. It’s obscene.”

Beat the Press. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) flashed her temper at a press briefing Wednesday, unloading on Jim Mills, a producer for Fox News Channel, over an intemperate question.

The fireworks started when Mills asked Pelosi about the fact that the Democratic leadership fell just three votes short of defeating President Bush’s budget resolution last week. It was a good question because five House Democrats missed the vote.

But Mills raised eyebrows when he referred to the troubles of Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.), who missed the vote because she was inebriated and fell down an escalator. McCarthy revealed to Roll Call last Friday that she is seeking treatment in the wake of the incident.

“Five of your Members were not there to vote for any number of reasons, one of which — one Member was plastered on alcohol [during] this vote,” Mills said. “Does this speak to lack of discipline in your party? Does it speak to lack of leadership within the Whip organization?”

An enraged Pelosi shot back, “I do not know what spirit moved you to put that question in that way. I find it to be offensive and insensitive. If a member of our Caucus —”

“You’ve been speaking about the budget resolution, and I asked you about the votes,” interjected Mills.

“No, no, but you did it in a very disrespectful way,” snapped Pelosi, adding, “It is with some sadness that we learned late that night that one of our Members needs to seek assistance for a sickness. She has said that she will do that and we pray that she will be well soon. I do not know that every Republican was there for the vote. I do not know what the count was.”

It was then pointed out that House Republicans had a handful of absentees as well.

“They missed three, so I do not know how you are going to frame your question to them, but I hope that what I view as a sickness will be treated with some level of sadness and respect for the decision that has been made by our Member to seek the help that she needs,” Pelosi said.

She added icily, “So if you think that my reaction to you was too harsh, it is based on the sorrow that we all feel.”

Go for the Gold. If Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) gets her way, British Prime Minister Tony Blair may be joining the list of those who have received the Congressional Gold Medal.

Dole has rounded up more than 70 Senators, including Majority Leader Frist and Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), to support her plan to award the honor to Blair, the United States’ most loyal ally in the current war in Iraq.

In fact, Blair and Bush were huddling at Camp David Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in the Iraq conflict even as Dole began lining up supporters for her proposal.

“I just have so much respect and admiration fort this man and I feel he deserves it,” Dole told HOH. “You really admire that kind of leadership. Of course we’ve always had a really strong friendship with the British. But this demonstrates true leadership for his nation and Europe.”

Other recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) and Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) are pushing a similar proposal in the House.

Paul Kane and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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