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Late Night With Dingell

He keeps insisting he has no plans to retire from Congress, but Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) seems to be itching to replace David Letterman on the late-night talk show circuit.

Dingell brought down the house at a private House Democratic Whip meeting on Thursday as he lashed out at the way Republicans are handling conference negotiations over the energy bill.

“Democrats are like mushrooms,” Dingell cracked. “We’re kept in the dark and fed horseshit.”

That followed this gem about the Medicare talks at a previous closed-door meeting: “There is no end to the rascality of these flinty hearted bastards.”

After being contacted by HOH, Dingell spokesman Michael Hacker confirmed the accuracy of the quotes. “He’s expressing the frustration he feels over being appointed to the Medicare and energy conferences but not being included in those discussions,” he said.

Pryce Isn’t Right. House GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) proved Friday that where there’s smoke, there’s not necessarily fire.

There was a scare when Pryce’s staff threw a log into the old fireplace of the boss’ Capitol hideaway to start easing into winter. (Does this mean they’re planning for Congress to be in session through December?)

Despite assurances from the superintendent’s office, the chimney flue wasn’t fully opened, so the upstairs office of House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was suddenly hit with a bit of smoke. But order was restored quickly.

“We were working on some rhetoric near the mantel and it was so good it caught fire,” explained Pryce spokesman Greg Crist, adding: “If Democrats don’t agree on an energy package soon, we will need to open all the fireplaces in the Capitol.”

Maybe Dingell can help shake things loose?

A Long, Hard E-Slog. Cathy Hurwit, chief of staff for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), kicked up quite an amusing fight when she circulated an electronic “Dear Colleague” urging Republican Members to support a resolution calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The resolution, pushed by Schakowsky along with Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), charges ol’ Rummy with being “dishonest with the American people in his assessments of the progress of the war and occupation.”

Since the letter was circulated by e-mail to all House offices, Republican staffers ended up having a ball by hitting their “Reply All” buttons and unloading on their Democratic counterparts in a full-scale counterattack that enlivened the Hill on Thursday.

“My boss prefers to support our troops and their mission in Iraq rather than playing political games,” wrote Erica Striebel, an aide to Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.).

“Grow up, people,” shot back Democratic aide Cindy Pellegrini. “Members are entitled to their views — and bills. If you disagree, just delete the Dear Colleague.”

GOP aide Debra Marshall retorted: “We do have the right to disagree vocally too. You all probably wouldn’t mind if we were all writing back how great this is. Chalk it up to the wonders of email.”

Hurwit, meanwhile, told HOH: “There was a lot of rhetoric flying around. But we were merely trying to offer our colleagues on the other side a chance to get on board since they have been expressing concerns about the Defense Department trampling the State Department.”

Does Gillespie Look French? During his triumphant press conference celebrating two gubernatorial pickups, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie sipped from a bottle of — gasp — Evian water.

RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson, who admitted to having a bottle of the French water on her own desk during a telephone interview, confirmed that there will now be a “top-to-bottom review” of how the said water had infiltrated their headquarters.

But, she cracked, “The Democrats are going to need something a lot stronger than Evian to revive their spirits after losing three governships in less than two months.”

Strong-arming, Neas-knocking. The battle over the judicial nomination of Janice Rogers Brown has gotten downright personal between GOP commentator Armstrong Williams and liberal activist Ralph Neas.

The duo nearly came to blows last week after debating the nomination of Brown on WUSA, the CBS affiliate in Washington. Williams called Neas, who has worked on civil rights for decades, racist for suggesting that the black female nominee is unqualified.

“It’s racism, I’m sorry, by saying she’s unqualified,” Williams told HOH after the debate. “When have you ever heard them say a white or Jewish candidate was unqualified? It’s the new racism.”

Williams said he was so “irate” about Neas’ TV comments that he was digging into his own pocket to run ads in several newspapers geared to black and Latino audiences to support Brown, who cleared the Senate Judiciary panel last week and faces a floor showdown.

Neas, who is still looking for an apology over the racism charge, said he tried to patch things up but Williams “ran out” of the studio. “If you can’t win on the merits, you start making outlandish charges,” he, well, charged.

The head of People for the American Way added that he has opposed plenty of white nominees, so race has nothing to do with it. And he poked holes in Williams’ claim that their confrontation sparked the ad buy since the conservative had already penned a column titled “New Racism” before the television spat.

“This is orchestrated — this is premeditated,” Neas said. “Nobody is playing the race card but Armstrong Williams, Republican Senators and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.”

Williams conceded Neas “is right mostly” about the claim that the racism charge — and the ad buy — was hatched before their battle. But he said the spat put him over the edge: “After the Channel 9 debate, this was easy money to spend.”

Dorgan Ducking Debate? With the economy showing signs of rebound, is Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) too chicken to debate his Republican counterpart on what’s supposed to be a bread-and-butter Democratic issue?

That’s the claim from Republicans, who say that Senate GOP Policy Committee Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) has tried — and failed — several times to get Dorgan to agree to a head-to-head showdown on the economy. It would be round two in a new series of Senate floor debates launched by Kyl and Dorgan, which started with a recent battle over the privatization of Social Security.

“Senator Kyl is ready, willing and able to field a team that will advocate President Bush’s economic recovery program,” Kyl spokesman Matt Latimer told HOH. “He hopes that we can reschedule this debate as soon as possible.”

DPC corner man Barry Piatt, however, hotly contested the charge that Dorgan is ducking. “We look forward to this debate eagerly, and in fact, we have suggested November 17 at 6 p.m., on the Senate floor, as the time and place,” he said. “However, we’ve not heard back from the Republicans. There is plenty to talk about.”

Wheel-er of Fortune. Senate aide Susan Wheeler has already won some dough on “Jeopardy,” so she blew away the competition in a recent trivia contest on local radio station WMZQ.

The country music station holds a weekly “Battle of the Beltway” contest between a resident of Virginia and someone who hails from Maryland. The first person to answer three questions correctly takes the prize, which was five tickets to FearFest at King’s Dominion.

Wheeler, who works for Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), was jokingly introduced as a staffer for “Senator Crap-po” by the DJ. “It’s sort of one of those names that lends itself to mispronunciation,” she told HOH with a laugh.

The staffer jumped out to an early lead that she never relinquished, nailing questions about Johnny Cash and Toby Keith. “It was a whole lot easier than ‘Jeopardy.’ I didn’t have to press a buzzer or anything,” said Wheeler, who appeared on the TV game show in the spring of 1999.

But, she noted, “The ‘Jeopardy’ prizes were a lot nicer.”

Press Lapdogs? House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who has been known to have a contentious relationship with the media, may have found a secret weapon to soften up the scribes.

At a recent press briefing, DeLay decided to bring along Chief of Staff Tim Berry’s dog, Owen.

“We are baby-sitting,” DeLay explained to reporters. “That is Owen. Owen, you are in the transcript” of the proceedings.

The hound seemed to care less about being part of the official record. But the reporters loved having him around, so perhaps there will be a thaw between the Majority Leader and the press — or maybe not.

“We’ve found that Owen laps up what we give him,” cracked DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy, “a lot easier than reporters on the Hill.”

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