In a stunning scene played out at the end of a long profile of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, the Tennessean is depicted sandbagging one of his colleagues.
Frist places a call to an unnamed freshman Senator and decides to put the lawmaker on speakerphone. This allows writer David Grann to sit in on the call without Frist letting the freshman know that his words are being documented by a journalist.
“Did I get you out of the most important meeting now?” asks Frist.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, if I had to sit there any longer and listen to Leahy and Schumer [expletive] and moan,” the freshman said of two Judiciary Committee colleagues, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Frist proceeds to ask the unnamed Senator if he will take care of the annual laborious chore of reciting George Washington’s Farewell Address on the Senate floor for Presidents’ Day. “I don’t have to wear a wig, do I?” cracks the freshman.
Wait a second: A freshman on the Judiciary Committee who delivered this year’s Washington address? A quick check of the Congressional Record reveals that person could be none other than Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who when asked by HOH if he knew First was letting someone else listen to the call said, “No, I didn’t.”
That’s critical because the call got even juicier. The Times piece offered a fascinating inside view of how executive branch nominations appear to be doled out in the Frist Senate.
Chambliss proceeded to hit the Majority Leader up for a favor because a “major Republican donor” wants an ambassadorship to an overseas economic development organization. “I don’t even know what the hell it is,” Chambliss admits, “but he wants it.”
After a moment of contemplation, Frist responds, “He has lots of dollar figures down there?”
“That’s exactly right,” says Chambliss. “And he did raise a chunk of money for me.”
“All right,” Frist is quoted as saying. “You’re a good man.”
This stirred the interest, to say the least, of Democrats. After all, the Clinton administration was pilloried for allegedly auctioning off ambassadorships and the like to the highest bidder among campaign donors.
“It’s crass and messy even by modern Republican standards,” one senior Democratic aide cracked about Frist’s wheeling and dealing. “Let’s hope they sterilized the room after that operation.”
(Ironically enough, “The Price of Power” was the headline of the story.)
Chambliss said he has spoken to Frist since reading the magazine profile, but stressed that he’s not angry. “Bill and I are friends, and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the article,” he said.
Not even the part where it seems that financial support is driving a nomination? No, Chambliss said, noting that many, many ambassadorships go to big donors who support whichever party controls the White House, a practice he doesn’t necessarily object to.
“For ambassadors, I don’t think that’s not to be considered, but this guy is a friend and he’s deserving of it,” he said.
Chambliss’ unnamed friend, however, has not yet gotten his posting. “At this point in time, no, it hasn’t happened, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be.”
Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson told HOH that the magazine merely depicted a “casual conversation” and the leader did not end up recommending the potential nominee to President Bush. He added that the leader has a staffer strictly vet any potential nominees and “any references to donor history submitted by a nominee’s supporters are disregarded.”
While Chambliss still has hopes of hooking up his friend, Stevenson stressed that “no action” was taken by Frist on the matter. “No name was ever sent. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue,” he said, adding that Frist has not submitted names for any nomination to the president.
As for whether Frist regrets putting Chambliss in this position, Stevenson said he was unaware of the Senator’s “personal reaction” to the anecdote. “This was a situation where the reporter was being given unprecedented access,” he said.
Holmes Sweet Holmes. Conservative pundit Amy Holmes has been tapped to serve as Frist’s new “counselor.”
Holmes, who once served as director of the campus project for the Independent Women’s Forum, replaces Ginny Wolfe, who recently moved on to a post with Manning Selvage & Lee.
Holmes, who was on the job Tuesday, will help coordinate Frist’s media events and speeches along with outreach to conservative groups.
“She’s an extremely talented young woman, and we’re fortunate that she’s agreed to come on board,” Stevenson, Frist’s communications director, told HOH.
As a social butterfly, however, Holmes may have to assume a slightly lower profile now that she’s working for the Majority Leader.
According to IWF’s Web site, Holmes was featured in People magazine’s annual list of the “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” a couple of years back. She dates Washington Post gossip columnist Lloyd Grove and is featured on the cover of this month’s Washington Life magazine in a provocative summer dress.
It’s hard to imagine Stevenson striking a similar pose.
Is This Why Lieberman’s Take Was So Low? Some tech companies were surprised by a couple of aspects of a “request for proposal” from Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) presidential campaign.
The April memo seeking help in setting up the campaign’s “communications and fundraising system” requested that vendors respond with a plan within six days.
Companies say they usually get several weeks to put together a proposal. But with Lieberman’s fundraising total through March relatively low compared to those of his top competitors, speed may have been of the essence.
Secondly, the request urged the companies to make sure that the system’s software was “year 2000 compliant” — even though that bug was dealt with a few years ago.
Lieberman Minister of Information Jano Cabrera had a ready explanation for dealing with the Y2K bug.
“The only reason we put that on there was to make sure we are not dealing with the failed Democratic policies of the past,” he joked.
Swinging for Charity. House Financial Services Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) were among the Members who turned out for this week’s 2nd Annual Children’s Charities Foundation Golf Classic on Monday.
The event, organized by Rita Norton of Amgen, raised about $125,000 to benefit nearly 100 Washington-area organizations serving at-risk youths.
Pete Teeley, head of Amgen’s Washington office, said he deeply appreciated the lawmakers’ participation. (Though it wasn’t too hard to get them — or HOH — out to Maryland’s TPC at Avenel on a Monday.)
“It helps with the stature of the event,” Teeley said of the Member participation. “We want it to grow year to year.”
Paul Kane contributed to this report.