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Coleman Under Fire.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) spent most of Tuesday dodging criticism over the freshman’s claim in Monday’s edition of Roll Call that he is a “99 percent improvement” over the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D).

Former Wellstone aides demanded an apology from Coleman, while Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) chastised his new colleague.

“I think it was an unfortunate comment,” Daschle told reporters. “I was one of those fortunate enough to consider Paul Wellstone a very, very dear and special friend. And I disagree with Senator Coleman 100 percent of it.”

Protesters also showed up at Coleman’s St. Paul office demanding that he “change the tone in Washington,” a pointed reference to one of the themes of his campaign last year.

For his part, Coleman initially released a statement that did not challenge the quotes that were attributed to him in the front-page story. He also did not specifically apologize in that statement.

“Mark Twain said the problem with talking to the media is they’re likely to print what you say,” Coleman said in a prepared statement. “It was my responsibility to be more clear in my remarks to Roll Call. It was my understanding we were comparing my relationship to this White House to the relationship Senator Wellstone had with this White House. I would never want to diminish the legacy or memory of Senator Paul Wellstone, and I will accept full responsibility for not having been more accurate in my comments.”

But late Tuesday, Coleman phoned HOH and said that he did want to apologize for any hurt that he caused.

“I fully apologize,” he said. “I accept the fact that there is a higher degree of sensitivity when talking about Senator Wellstone.”

Coleman stressed that he did not want to hedge anything about the context of his comments. “I apologize and it won’t happen again. I’ll choose words more carefully in the future. It’s not the reporter’s mistake. It’s my mistake.”

In the original interview, Coleman brought up Wellstone’s name during a discussion about his own transition to the Senate. Wellstone was killed along with his wife, daughter, three campaign aides and two pilots in a plane crash on the eve of last year’s re-election battle.

As he chewed on an unlit cigar in his Senate office, Coleman told Roll Call’s Mark Preston: “To be very blunt and God watch over Paul’s soul, I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone. Just about on every issue.”

After being pressed about the remaining 1 percent, Coleman stressed his desire to support President Bush.

“In other words, Wellstone was never with the president,” said Coleman. “I could be with the president most of the time. If I disagree on affirmative action, if I disagree on ANWR, if I disagree on something else down the road, so what. The differences are so profound.”

Lap of Luxury. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) sparked some giggling when he testified before the House Small Business Committee on Tuesday about “drive-by” lawsuits in his home state.

Foley related the case of a man in a wheelchair who used the Americans With Disabilities Act to sue a strip club in the Congressman’s district.

“The room typically used for lap dances apparently could only be reached by stairs,” Foley told the committee. “He also complained that the club violated his ADA rights because he couldn’t enjoy a good view of the stage where the strippers disrobe from his wheelchair.”

Sounds like it’s a matter of time before the case makes its way into a campaign ad for Foley, who’s trying to strip Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) from his seat in the chamber.

Pinned Down. With so many security concerns around the Capitol these days, Democrats are wondering why Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) was allegedly so eager to turn over his official lapel pin to a young woman while downing drinks in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning at the Rhino Bar and Pumphouse in Georgetown.

That lapel pin is a very serious object that allows the bearer to skip metal detectors around Capitol Hill. The Web site of the House Sergeant-at-Arms office lists strict guidelines about lost and stolen pins.

“A Member (or his office) should notify the Sergeant at Arms office by phone or in person, that a new Member or spouse pin is required and should mail or fax a letter requesting a replacement pin,” says the Web site. “The letter should indicate the reason (i.e. lost or stolen) for the request. Duplicate pins cannot be issued for convenience alone.”

Michelle Mezoe, a 21-year-old junior at Georgetown University, told Washington Post Reliable Source columnist Lloyd Grove that Ferguson handed her his lapel pin at the bar and said she could keep it if she would “come back and have a drink with me.”

A Democratic aide told HOH that “it doesn’t show very good judgment to give a young woman who you don’t know a pin that allows you to swiftly pass through security at the Capitol. Then again, it doesn’t show very good judgment for a man with a newborn to be hanging out at a Rhino Bar and Pumphouse.”

Chris Jones, Ferguson’s chief of staff, told HOH that the Congressman never offered the pin to Mezoe so he did not create a security problem.

“This suggestion coming from Democrats is as ridiculous as the original story,” said Jones. “Mike had his pin taken from him. And only after the police were called and arrived did he get his pin back.”

As for a married father of three children hanging out at a college bar late after a House workday, Ferguson himself told the Newark Star-Ledger that he was “flabbergasted” by the way the incident was portrayed.

Ferguson, a graduate of Georgetown, said he had been to the bar before and was merely having drinks with a couple of his staffers. “It’s incredibly hurtful to my family to hear something like this,” he said. “I have a wife and children who are precious to me. I would never do something that would be hurtful to them.”

Scully Suit. The colorfully phrased e-mail that Bush official Thomas Scully sent to a Gallup Organization official in early March initially appeared to just be a juicy bit of gossip, but Gallup is taking the missive a lot more seriously than that.

Gallup, one of the nation’s premier survey-research firms, filed suit Tuesday in federal court accusing Scully of violating the organization’s rights to freedom of speech.

The suit also alleged that Scully, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, engaged in an intimidation scheme to prevent Gallup from publicizing what it believes is an improper relationship between CMS and another survey-research firm, National Research Corp./Picker.

In its filing, Gallup alleges that the e-mail, sent to Gallup official Robert Nielsen and Office of Management and Budget official Brenda Aquilar, was intended to threaten Nielsen and intimidate other senior government officials. Nielsen had requested that OMB halt funding for a pilot hospital survey because he and other Gallup officials believed CMS colluded with NRC/Picker in devising the survey, thereby putting other research firms at a disadvantage in the hospital survey market.

Scully responded to those allegations with personal attacks. “You are out of line — and out of your mind,” Scully wrote to Nielsen. “You should be MUCH more careful with your accusations.”

Scully wrote to Aquilar that “if you meet with this guy it will be the last time I ever speak to you about CMS issues. I would like to investigate this idiot.”

Gallup also alleges that other threatening e-mails were sent to other survey research firms “in an effort to further intimidate and injure the company.” Scully has 60 days to file a response to the suit before lawyers begin taking depositions in preparation for a jury trial.

The Gallup lawsuit comes one day after House Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) sent a letter to Scully requesting information on how the pilot hospital survey was devised.

“These are very serious allegations, and we are determined to get to the bottom of them,” Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson told HOH. “Chairman Tauzin has spoken to Mr. Scully and made it crystal clear that he wants some straight answers.”

Tauzin has given Scully until the end of this week to answer such questions as whether the survey could cause hospitals to abandon their current relationships with survey firms like Gallup in favor of NRC/Picker. It also requires Scully to account for CMS employees that formerly worked for NRC/Picker.

Phone Home. House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) will today unveil an initiative to help military families deal with being away from loved ones during the war in Iraq.

Joined by Paul Francischetti of Verizon Corp., the lawmakers will announce the donation of more than 225,000 prepaid calling cards for families of mobilized National Guard and Reserve members.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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