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New Meaning for “Labor” Lobbying

George Clooney may want to come see Alex Vogel, chief counsel for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), to discuss obtaining the rights to a terrific script idea for HBO’s “K Street.”

In a dramatic sign of the lengths that influence peddlers will go to when they desperately need a piece of information, Vogel discovered that even the hospital delivery room isn’t off-limits when lobbyists need to ply their trade.

The Senate staffer had raced out of the office on Sept. 4 to meet his wife, attorney Jill Holtzman Vogel, who had gone into labor about three weeks early. He obviously didn’t want to be disturbed as he rushed to the hospital for the blessed event.

But then one of the 24-hour news networks ran an item on the “crawl” across the bottom of the screen suggesting Frist had declared the asbestos bill dead for the year. Since insurance companies have billions of dollars at stake on the matter, a certain industry lobbyist — Vogel will not name the fellow — had a client who was freaking out about the news blurb.

The lobbyist knew that Vogel’s wife was in labor, but he absolutely had to find out if Frist had made such a statement. So he quickly sent an e-mail to Vogel, knowing full well that the staffer never goes anywhere — not even the hospital — without his BlackBerry.

“The lobbyist BlackBerried me in the middle of it saying, ‘I know you’re in labor, but it’s important,’” recalled Vogel, who then found the precise note in his e-mail device. “He wrote, ‘I’m completely mortified that I have to bother you with this, but …’”

Vogel stressed that he was not peeved about it. “It was relatively early in the process, so I mostly felt amused,” he said. “I found it flat-out entertaining. It just shows that the Senate’s work is never done.”

The key piece of information is that Vogel saved himself from years of tweaking from his wife about his workaholic ways by not sending a reply to the e-mail. “I couldn’t even respond,” he said.

But most important of all is the fact that a healthy young boy, William Alexander Vogel, was born at 6 pounds, 4 ounces. And just so Clooney and his compatriots know, the parents aren’t against letting him appear in an HBO docudrama.

“Only,” stressed the proud papa, “if he gets union rates.”

Clooney, meanwhile, was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to promote legislation supported by the United Way that would create a national 2-1-1 line for local information.

“I had to sneak in because I’ve been banned,” he quipped about Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) decision that the rules prevent the show from filming inside the Capitol.

White House Bound. The buzz on the Hill is that NBC News correspondent Norah O’Donnell is heading over to the White House to cover President Bush along with David Gregory, handing the Congressional beat over to Chip Reid.

Insiders say a slot is opening at the White House because correspondent Campbell Brown is expected to head to New York full time. She has been covering the White House during the week and occasionally co-hosting “Weekend Today” on the side.

Brown is likely to take on a formal role on the weekend program, which has been dealing with the death of co-host David Bloom and the departure of co-host Soledad O’Brien to CNN. In order to stay in the loop, she may also do some national reporting for “Nightly News,” perhaps on the presidential campaign trail, based out of New York.

Capitol Hill will be familiar ground for Reid, who worked at ABC’s Washington, D.C., affiliate prior to joining NBC News. And he once toiled as an aide to Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) on the Judiciary Committee.

Sweeney’s Sweetie. It’s not easy to make brash New York Rep. John Sweeney (R) blush, but Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) came pretty close at a Homeland Security appropriations conference committee on Wednesday.

That’s because Roger declared that he’d heard a little rumor that Sweeney had proposed to girlfriend Gayle Ford.

A beaming Sweeney confirmed that he had gotten the job done on the Capitol steps on Tuesday night.

“I think the Congressman is really excited,” Sweeney spokesman Demetrios Karoutsos told HOH. “He’s very happy.”

Santa Behind Bars? What started off as a feel-good “Santa in September” event on Capitol Hill Wednesday nearly turned into a “Santa in the Slammer” moment when Capitol Police almost took Jolly St. Nick into custody.

George Jackson, who has sent enormous paper scrolls filled with holiday messages to U.S. troops stationed overseas for nine years, returned to the Capitol at the invitation of Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) to fill out this year’s scroll.

Jackson was full of all kinds of holiday cheer as he stood outside the Rayburn Cafeteria, dressed in full Santa regalia, ringing his sleigh bells and calling Members of Congress and staffers who signed his scrolls his “little helpers.”

But Capitol Police officers on the scene were not quite as happy because they thought the event represented a “borderline demonstration” that needed to be snuffed out.

“Apparently there was some confusion as to whether we had received the proper permission,” said Gilchrest spokeswoman Cathy Bassett. “We got permission from the Speaker’s office but the House Sergeant-at-Arms office wasn’t made aware of the event.”

Bassett noted it was just a communications breakdown. “The Capitol Police were just doing their job,” she said.

Capitol Police assistant spokeswoman Contricia Ford confirmed that the signature drive had been authorized. “I just don’t think the information got down to the officers on the scene in time,” she said.

Let’s all just hope Santa overlooks the incident and doesn’t stick any coal in the stocking of Chief Terrance Gainer.

Two to Tango. She may be a foot or so shorter than her dancing partner, but Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is all set to dance the tango with Doug Duncan on Saturday night.

Duncan, the Montgomery County Executive in Maryland, worked with Mikulski to secure funding for renovations to the historic Glen Echo Park in the Washington suburbs.

At last year’s groundbreaking of the North Arcade and Spanish Ballroom rehab projects, the duo had quipped that they would “dance a tango … or something” to celebrate completion of the work.

True to her word, the feisty Mikulski sent out a press release declaring that she will perform “a ‘Hairspray’ version of the tango” with Duncan at Saturday’s gala event to celebrate the re-opening of the ballroom.

“You need the picture,” Duncan told HOH. “I’m dying to get visual proof. I’ve given people cameras already” to get the shot.

“People want to see the height difference and the size difference, so it’s worth the price of admission,” he said, adding of the state’s senior Senator: “I think Sarbanes is a little jealous.”

No Pryor Restraint. Besides jumping on the Wesley Clark presidential bandwagon this week, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) has been doing a victory dance around fellow freshman Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

That’s because the University of Arkansas Razorbacks scored an upset victory over the University of Texas Longhorns in a college football game that netted Pryor a platter of Texas barbecue beef courtesy of his colleague.

“While I’m not sure what I will do with it yet, I heard Texas barbecue makes good stucco and I do have a few holes in my basement wall I’ve been meaning to fix,” Pryor cracked. “I wonder if this beef is coming from the hide of their mascot Bevo?”

Tread carefully, sir. Texans have a long memory.

Inga Beyer and John McArdle contributed to this report.

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