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Sharpton’s Labor Pains

HOH was surprised to see the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the Democratic presidential candidates appealing to the left wing of the party, enjoying breakfast Wednesday at La Colline.

The venerable Capitol Hill eatery, which has been in business for more than 21 years, is usually avoided by prominent Democrats be-

cause of a labor dispute that has sparked a daily, one-man picket during lunch hours for several years.

Republicans, who tend to care a wee bit less about offending union folks, swallow their anti-French feelings and patronize the restaurant more frequently.

Sharpton’s campaign manager, Frank Watkins, told HOH that the boss had breakfast with some female leaders interested in his campaign. The location was convenient because it came right after an appearance on C-SPAN, which is also in the Hall of States building.

“We certainly have no problem going to a French place,” Watkins said of a campaign that opposed the war in Iraq. “But if we had known about the union problem, we would have avoided it. There was certainly no picket outside.”

Denis Sirieys, the manager at La Colline, said the restaurant still has appeal on both sides of the aisle and was glad to get Sharpton’s business.

“He was eating on the terrace,” Sirieys said. “Quite a few people came into the restaurant and then went outside just to shake hands with him.”

Brit Reports, Brit Decides? The cable war between CNN and Fox News Channel opened a new front this week when Fox’s Brit Hume took aim at the rival network for allegedly promoting Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) presidential campaign.

CNN officials went ballistic after Hume charged on “Special Report” that CNN had essentially been in cahoots with Lieberman in organizing a Monday press conference that slashed President Bush and leading Democrats on Iraq.

“Senator Lieberman’s attack on the Bush administration and his fellow Democratic candidates today was delivered in an unusual place for such a speech, in the Senate Radio and Television Gallery, where Members normally go just to answer press questions,” said Hume. “Indeed, under Senate rules, a Member may only use the gallery studio when invited there by a member of the media.”

“The Senator’s invitation today was helpfully provided by CNN.”

Lawmakers, however, do not “just go to answer press questions” in the gallery. Every day, Senators from both parties head to the gallery to get their message out on various political issues, after which they take questions.

And “invitations” to the gallery are a mere formality that all of the TV networks issue. Indeed, statistics obtained by HOH show that Fox issued a total of four invites in June and July that all went to — gasp! — Democrats.

On June 25, Fox invited Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) — a potential presidential candidate, by the way — to the gallery to discuss Iraqi intelligence and his official trip to the region. There was also a Fox invite to three Democrats who blasted Bush over the size of the federal deficit.

On Wednesday, Fox invited Lieberman himself to a press conference in which the Senator bashed the White House for not doing enough on climate control, an issue being debated by the chamber.

“These guys [at Fox] are tools of the liberals,” cracked one CNN ally. “These guys are biased by only inviting Democrats. We are skewing to the Republicans, which Brit should put in his next report.”

CNN’s 13 invites to lawmakers in the past two months have mostly been to either bipartisan duos or Republican Senators flying solo, such as the recent presser that featured Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) beating up on Democrats for blocking judicial nominations.

Hume didn’t back down an inch. “This all misses the point,” he told HOH of the stats. “The gallery is a place where politicians come to answer questions. They make a statement, but then they take questions.

“I think it is fair to say that this was a stump speech,” Hume added. “Nothing wrong with it, but it came with a little help — shall we say — from his friends at CNN.”

Hume noted: “Lieberman’s campaign people were promoting that speech days ahead of time” and now feature the transcript prominently on their Web site under the “speeches and op-eds” header.

The anchor added that Wednesday’s Fox invite to Lieberman came in connection with the energy bill being debated in the Senate. “And the business before the Senate the other day was what, pray tell?” he said. “This is a little bit different than someone coming up with a one-page statement.”

He added of CNN, which has taken a beating in the ratings game: “My sense is they may not really see a distinction here between this and the normal appearance. If they don’t, too bad for them.”

Max-imum Payoff. Jeff Forbes, Democratic staff director on the powerful Finance Committee for Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), is leaving in the fall to start his own lobbying firm.

Forbes is joining forces with longtime Democratic activist Sonny Cauthen Jr. and lobbyist Zachary Williams to form Cauthen, Forbes, Williams and Associates. He will also be opening the doors of Forbes Consulting, a company that will focus on strategic political consulting.

The well-respected Democratic strategist, who is known for his mastery of the superdelegate process among other assets, began his career in politics on Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign.

After running several more successful campaigns, Forbes later served as staff director of legislative affairs and deputy director of scheduling in the Clinton White House.

“Jeff’s political experience and work with the Finance Committee will be a great asset to our new firm,” Cauthen said of the shop that will focus on taxes, trade, transportation, energy, banking and health care issues.

Doubting Thomas. Who says Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and his allies can’t get along with anyone?

That was Debra DeShong, spokesgal for the Democratic National Committee, who was spotted last weekend bear-hugging a former Thomas aide in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.

DeShong was in New York to crash the Republican National Committee’s coronation of new Chairman Ed Gillespie when she ran into Jason Poblete, a former Thomas aide who’s now a lobbyist at Reed Smith.

The duo had more than a few battles when Thomas served as chairman of the House Administration Committee and DeShong served as press secretary for Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who was ranking member on the panel.

“We always had a love-hate relationship, so the fact I was there crashing the RNC party was a great moment,” DeShong told HOH. “It was surprising, awkward and pleasant.”

While she and Poblete are now friendly adversaries, she admits to having to “bite my tongue” to avoid tweaking the Republican about Thomas’ recent apology for calling the cops on recalcitrant Ways and Means Democrats.

“At a minimum, I expect a pass to the next DNC meeting — with lunch,” Poblete joked.

Hillaryland. Proving once again that much of the energy in the Democratic Party appears to be with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), a who’s who of former Clinton White House types turned out for last week’s farewell party in the Russell Senate Office Building for two Senate aides.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Clinton toasted her legislative director, Ann O’Leary, and communications director, Karen Dunn, both of whom are heading off to law school.

John Podesta joked that since O’Leary used to work with him at the White House and somehow was able to avoid the inside of a grand jury room, she’s certainly entitled to a law degree.

It was left to Clinton’s press secretary, Philippe Reines, to joke about having to deal with Dunn’s Hamlet act on whether to head back to school.

With a bow to his experience with questions about whether the Senator will run for president, he joked that he was able to fend off the notoriously unwieldy New York press corps from running with rumors that Dunn was leaving by telling people flatly, “She is happy in her current position, and she isn’t thinking about the next steps.”

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