Bill’s Blog

Posted December 5, 2003 at 6:22pm

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who loves to fire off quick-burst e-mails from his BlackBerry, sent close supporters a post-Thanksgiving dispatch offering a window on his plans for the chamber’s agenda next year.

In the e-mail, Frist vowed to focus on energy, the highway bill, welfare reform and judicial nominations. The leader also provided a warning shot to trial lawyers on class-action reform.

“Follow the progress on class action,” Frist wrote. “We must defang the trial lawyers. I think we can also make progress on asbestos reform which is badly needed.”

Frist promised to make a new push to “break the democrat-led filibuster on Energy,” though there are also several key Republicans who are blocking completion of the bill, which is two votes short of cloture.

True to his style, the leader mixed talk about policy (he’s bullish on passage of the Medicare bill) with some folksy details about his holiday.

“Karyn and I and the boys had 37 members of our family, including her Mom, from Ft Worth to Thanksgiving dinner at our home in Nashville,” he wrote.

“Over the weekend the boys and I spent time in the glorious outdoors hunting with my good friend Steve Smith and his two sons. The ducks were really flying. Bought new waders after two hours of unnecessary exposure to right foot because of persistent leak in the old ones!!!”

He closed, “Our prayers remain with the President and our troops in Iraq and indeed around the world. They fight for the freedom of you and me and our children.

“Well, enough rambling for now. Thank you for supporting America.”

There Goes the Jewish Vote. Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) careful efforts to reach out to the Jewish-American community may have taken a slight turn for the worse last week after he released next year’s House legislative calendar.

DeLay’s initial calendar for next year showed the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah falling on Sept. 17 and suggested there would be votes on Thursday, Sept. 16. It turns out that the holiday actually falls on the 16th next year, so staffers had to scramble to update it.

That led to some chuckling in the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), which sent around an e-mail declaring, “Due to their earlier mistake with an incorrect date for Rosh Hashanah, the Republican Leadership has had to issue a 2nd correction to the 2004 legislative calendar.”

So there will no longer be votes on Sept. 16, but the House will come in on Monday, Sept. 13, for some late evening votes.

“OY VEY!” DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy e-mailed HOH. “I’m getting ver clempt. We’ll find the Shaygets (male gentile) who put out the first calendar.”

Spine of Steel? In yet another sign that his campaign for president remains a bit rough around the edges, retired Gen. Wesley Clark was a little quick on the trigger in his rush to denounce President Bush’s decision last week to lift steel tariffs.

Clark’s press shop fired off a press release that screamed “Bush Takes Cues From Big Steel” and ominously noted that the president made his decision to lift the tariffs “just days after meeting with steel industry officials at a fundraiser” in Pittsburgh.

The candidate himself thundered in the press release, “This is yet more evidence that President Bush takes his cues from donors, not workers.”

There was one little flaw in this argument: Bush actually defied the steel executives who contributed to his re-election campaign, ending the tariffs over their bitter objections.

Quickly realizing the mixed-up logic, Clark’s campaign issued a corrected version that was a bit milder in declaring, “Bush Still Has No Plan for Manufacturing.”

“We need a real strategy to help our manufacturing communities,” Clark said in the second take. “That’s why I’ve released a detailed Manufacturing Security Plan to jump-start the manufacturing sector and keep jobs from being shipped overseas.”

Not quite as stinging.

He Was Told There Would Be No Math. As he continues his free-fall, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) seems to be having trouble keeping those pesky poll numbers straight.

Kerry was lampooned several weeks ago after claiming in a presidential debate that one survey showed him 15 points ahead of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who’s been demolishing the field despite the fact that she’s not even in the race. The problem was that nobody could quite track that poll down.

The Senator was at it again last Thursday, when he appeared on the CBS “Early Show” to discuss the fact that he’s trailing badly in the must-win Granite State. “Let me tell you something, John McCain was 30 points behind Bush in New Hampshire at this point in time,” Kerry claimed.

A quick check of a Washington Post story from Dec. 10, 1999, showed a much different picture of the 2000 GOP presidential battle. In fact, McCain was leading George W. Bush 35 percent to 32 percent in New Hampshire in a Zogby poll taken in early December. A Franklin Pierce College poll, meanwhile, showed the Arizona Senator leading Bush by a 43 percent to 28 percent margin.

Kerry spokesman David DiMartino said the Senator “was referring to the 30-point swing McCain made up from being down 14-17 points in November of 1999 to winning by 18” points in February 2000.

“The bottom line is the only poll that matters is on Election Day, and the only candidate who can take the ‘W’ from ‘W’ is John Kerry,” added DiMartino.

It turns out that the unscientific numbers at in the presidential book sweepstakes are not much better for Kerry. As of Friday, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s tome had an overall sales ranking of 532. Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) book was at 1,044; and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) came in at 3,325. Kerry, meanwhile, was mired at 14,763.

Hail to the Chief. It may not have generated quite as much buzz as the Paris Hilton video, but there was quite a bit of guffawing last week about a news photo of former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) that appeared to be an X-rated snapshot.

Gephardt was delivering his stump speech at a presidential campaign event in Iowa with a giant American flag draped behind him. An enterprising photographer for The Associated Press took a shot of the candidate’s silhouette on the flag.

The only problem is that the shadow created a rather amusing optical illusion with one of Gephardt’s hands. (You can find the photo at

Even Gephardt’s staff found some humor in the matter. “This just goes to show that Dick Gephardt is casting a long shadow on the rest of the field,” quipped spokesman Erik Smith.

Gridiron Diversity? Donna Brazile broke a comedic barrier of sorts by becoming the first black female to serve as one of the two featured speakers at the winter Gridiron dinner on Saturday night.

Brazile, who spoke opposite liberal Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) at the super-secret event at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, made light of the situation during her remarks at the event dominated by old, white male establishment types.

“I know the Gridiron is an extremely exclusive club, and inviting me here is a real nod towards greater diversity,” she deadpanned. “Just look at me. I’m well under 75.”

Brazile, a Roll Call contributing writer, added, “I know I’m not the first black person to speak at the Gridiron — you’ve had Vernon Jordan … J.C. Watts … Bill Clinton.”

She also noted another first for that evening’s event. “The other speaker is Lincoln Chafee,” she said. “This is the first time you’ve had two Democratic speakers.”

Brazile joked, “I’ve never been to the Greenbrier before, but I was surprised how easy it was to get to. You just take the Robert C. Byrd Parkway to the Bob Byrd Bridge, then you get on the Senator Byrd spur and take that past Byrd’s Hollow.”

The former campaign manager for Al Gore’s 2000 campaign saw the bright side to working on three losing presidential bids in her career. “Six more losses and I break Bob Shrum’s record,” she joked.

She also joked that Kerry really wanted to attend the event at the swank resort: “Unfortunately, he fired his scheduler … both of his drivers quit …. and his wife thinks this place is a slum.”

Brazile lamented the fact that Bush has gotten so much praise for his stealth visit to Iraq for Thanksgiving: “When Republicans sneak out of the house they get praised by the entire nation, when Bill Clinton did it, he got impeached.”

She added that the trip “was either the second time he lied about getting into Iraq … or the first time he had a plan to get out.”

Bob, We Hardly Knew Ye. It’s just not fair to the press that Bob Torricelli is no longer in the Senate.

The New Jersey Democrat was just so darn fun for the media to cover, as witnessed once again by Torricelli’s antics last week in the West Amwell Municipal Court, where he was dealing with charges stemming from an August fender-bender.

“It wasn’t an accident!” Torricelli insisted on the stand, according to the Bergen Record. “A car backed up at less than 1 mph in a private parking lot” and hit another vehicle in a shopping center.

The Torch has pinned this one on his former wife, Susan Holloway, contending that she backed his Jeep out of a parking spot and tapped a parked vehicle. The duo inspected for damage, didn’t see any problem and went off on their merry way.

A police officer later showed up at the former Senator’s door, insisting that a witness alleged that Torricelli himself was driving and actually did cause some damage. ‘Ol Bob insists that the windows are tinted, so it was impossible for anyone to see the driver’s seat.

The always-loquacious Torricelli (who can forget his “I’ve changed people’s lives” farewell address?) also got into hot water with Judge Richard Cushing for being a bit long-winded at the start of the trial, which will resume in January.

Cushing told Torricelli to sit down at one point, adding at another moment: “Senator, you are well-represented. You don’t need to make speeches up there.”

How many Senators would have loved to use that line over the years?

Meet the Press, Literally. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has found a novel way to suck up to the home-state media: getting engaged to columnist Connie Schultz.

He issued the non-legislative proposal during the preparations for Thanksgiving dinner, according WTAM Radio in Cleveland. Schultz, who writes for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, had been dropping anonymous references to a boyfriend in her column. But the dots were not connected until Cleveland magazine recently ran an item on the romance.

Meanwhile, Ways and Means spokeswoman Christin Tinsworth now has an extra special reason to make sure that the so-called “marriage penalty” doesn’t make it back into the tax code. She got engaged to Martin Baker, a field rep at the National Republican Congressional Committee, after a romantic dinner at Kinkead’s during Thanksgiving week.

Back in Town. HOH suggested last month that Jim Wilkinson might be leaving his post as communications czar at the GOP convention for a major national security post, and the former Hill aide has now landed a senior job at the White House.

Wilkinson has been named deputy assistant to the president and deputy security adviser for communications, where he will head up press strategy for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Wilkinson has more than his share of national security experience. He was director of strategic communications at the U.S. Central Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Meanwhile, House aide Brookly McLaughlin has moved over to the Treasury Department to serve as a public affairs specialist for economic policy. McLaughlin, who had been advising House Financial Services Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), will now be working for Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols.