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Say It Ain’t So, Joe

The ever-ambitious Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) thought he had found a clever way to puff up his achievements in order to impress his constituents.

The only problem is that it turns out Baca told an awfully tall tale when he claimed that he had given House Appropriations

Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) golf lessons in exchange for a $1 million pork project.

Baca blabbed last week to a San Bernardino Sun columnist about his genius way of bringing home the bacon, resulting in a headline “‘Workin’ Joe’ Works Some Magic On Golf Course in Favor of Bridge.”

The item in the newspaper’s “The Insider” column proceeded to reveal that Baca, a well-known scratch golfer, had been “helping” Young with his game.

“‘Workin’ Joe’ says these personal relationships are key to getting set-asides like the million bucks for the Cypress Avenue bridge over Interstate 10,” read the column.

The story then quoted Baca as saying, “The golf lessons that I gave him paid off,” in what would have been incredibly bad form if true.

But HOH called Young’s longtime chief of staff, Harry Glenn, to check on the state of the chairman’s golf game.

“I can safely answer that question for you right now,” Glenn said flatly. “Chairman Young does not play golf.”

HOH then called Baca spokeswoman Laura O’Neill, who said she had a copy of the column in question right in front of her. She didn’t let on that there had been any correction to the column or any other problem.

Upon being told that Young does not play golf, however, there was a bit of a pause. O’Neill said it would probably be difficult to track down Baca on Friday because he was back in the district (way out in California), but she suspected that he was only joking.

After a few hours, a prepared statement arrived by e-mail. “We don’t know if Bill Young has ever in fact even golfed with my boss, but it doesn’t matter,” said O’Neill. “That is very much his sense of humor to say something like this.” Too bad Baca didn’t make that clear in the interview.

O’Neill told HOH that she was frankly shocked anyone would believe the original story was true.

“It is ridiculous to think that an appropriator would ever approve funding for a transportation project simply because someone improved their swing,” she said. “But my boss always stresses the importance of Democrats and Republicans continuing to work together in a bipartisan manner to get things accomplished.”

Coming soon: “Baca, DeLay Pickup Basketball Game Helps Solve Mideast Crisis.”

No Doubting Thomas. He may not get warm and cuddly with Democrats, but House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) proved once again last week that he just melts around cats.

A GOP aide described a comical scene at Wednesday’s American Animal Health Institute’s Seventh Annual Pet Night on Capital Hill, which featured Thomas desperately trying to get a photo with Mrs. Norris — the cat from the “Harry Potter” movies.

The problem for Thomas, who has one cat (Roo) and has helped nurse along a stray cat in his neighborhood (Freddie the Freeloader), was that scores of Hill staffers also wanted a snapshot with the famous feline.

Despite his reputation for being arrogant and curt, however, Thomas didn’t cut ahead in the long line. He waited patiently in the line that snaked around the room to get his moment with the cat at the evening reception.

“Cat’s out of the bag,” Ways and Means spokeswoman Christin Tinsworth told HOH. “He’s compassionate and conservative.”

Thomas even confided to someone else in line that he had chowed down on some salmon at lunch in order to draw Mrs. Norris extra close to him for the photo.

If only it took just salmon to get Thomas and Ways and Means ranking member Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to patch things up.

All Is Forgotten? Eight months after refusing to bail him out, President Bush finally had to look Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) in the eye on Friday.

Bush helped throw Lott out of the GOP leadership by lashing out at the Senator’s comments at the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) 100th birthday party. Lott has been sticking it to the president’s agenda ever since, and insiders are waiting to see whether the Senator lets loose on Bush in his upcoming book.

But everything appeared hunky-dory last week, when the duo attended a fundraiser in Jackson, Miss., for gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour (R).

“Speaking about a guy who married well, Senator Lott is with us,” Bush said to laughter and applause.

“Tricia and Trent are good friends of Laura and mine,” Bush added. “We both love our country and we both love Scottish terriers.

“Let me tell you something about Trent — Mississippi is really, really lucky to have him as a United States Senator.”

Teddy at the Bat. With his presidential campaign floundering a bit, Sen. John Kerry has finally decided to deploy his fellow Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. Edward Kennedy, for a fundraising pitch.

Telling would-be donors that “He’s the one!!!” Kennedy urged Democrats to help fill Kerry’s presidential war chest before Sept. 30, the deadline for the critical third-quarter fundraising numbers.

Kennedy praised Kerry for “carrying the ideas and principles that you and I care about into one of the most critical elections of our time” and then sought to touch a raw nerve for many Democrats still boiling about the outcome of the 2000 White House election.

“I can’t wait to see John Kerry debate George Bush in the run-up to November ’04,” Kennedy wrote. “That’ll be one election the Supreme Court won’t have to decide!”

But there is a sense of apprehension in Kennedy’s missive when he calls on donors to “rush a contribution to the Kerry Campaign.”

“Timing is everything in this fast-moving race and now is one of those rare campaign moments when we can multiply John’s new momentum in a major way,” Kennedy wrote. “Act now … and don’t forget to send this email to friends who share our goal.”

Since old Kennedy hand Bob Shrum is now said to be locked in a bit of a power struggle within the Kerry campaign, maybe the liberal lion can help with that one as an encore?

A Little Fishy. Forget about chicken nuggets — school kids will soon be eating salmon burgers if Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) gets his way.

On Friday, Stevens feted the Capitol Hill press corps at his annual feast celebrating all things Alaskan, including salmon, potato chips and rhubarb crisp topped with vanilla ice cream.

Once the Alaska Republican fattened the reporters, he delivered a strong pitch for a new way to serve his state’s second most famous export (behind bubbling crude).

“It’s a healthy alternative to what has traditionally been served,” Stevens said about the salmon burgers, which were generally well-received by the famished reporters.

But more importantly for Stevens, who is famous for bringing pork to his state, he predicted salmon burgers would be embraced by people across the United States and provide “a whole new income stream” for his state.

One outlet Stevens is targeting is the school lunch program, and the Senator suggested he would “make a pitch” to the Agriculture Department to add salmon burgers to the menu.

Given the Appropriations chairman’s clout, that may be an offer the aggies can’t refuse.

Honoring Quayle. While some critics said Dan Quayle’s time as vice president was a bust, that was nothing compared to the Senate’s long ordeal to create a bust honoring him.

Noting it took four artists to finish because of the deaths of two sculptors, Quayle’s son had the best line at Wednesday’s unveiling ceremony: “You were a lot younger then, Dad.”

The bust will be relocated to the Senate Reception Room, where it will be the 44th to be added to the vice presidential collection. It will be placed across from that of Quayle’s vice presidential predecessor, George H.W. Bush.

The elder Bush joked that “being cast in marble is what every vice president looks forward to — it’s our one shot of being remembered.”

Mark Preston and Carolyn Shuckerow contributed to this report.

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