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Dissing Condi

There was quite a bit of chatter in the Capitol on Wednesday about some unexpected fireworks flying at a ceremony honoring civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height after comic Bill Cosby snubbed National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Cosby decided to voice his opposition to the Bush administration’s foreign policy by refusing to sit next to Rice, as organizers

had planned, at the event in which Height received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush and Hill leaders.

“It’s too bad that Mr. Cosby couldn’t cross the partisan divide, especially at an event for a great civil rights leader,” griped one senior Congressional aide.

Rice, who’s pretty busy dealing with the fallout from ex-White House aide Richard Clarke’s book, was unaware of the slight and brushed it off.

“It’s a free country,” Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Wilkinson told HOH.

There was a bit more civility and bipartisanship on display after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) noted that as usual, the 92-year-old Height was the best-dressed woman in the joint.

Insiders tell HOH that Bush, who was sitting between Height and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), leaned in and whispered that he thought the Congresswoman had that honor.

Can You Rephrase That? House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), who’s known to be a bit gruff and ornery from time to time, left the crowd rolling in the aisles at Wednesday’s markup of the highway bill.

Young went ballistic over the fact that a chorus of cellphones kept ringing in the pockets of lobbyists and lawmakers, repeatedly interrupting the important debate. The chairman wanted everyone to use the “vibrate” function of their phones, but he didn’t quite put it that way.

“You don’t have to have them ringing,” Young finally barked. “You can use a vibrator just as well!”

The room exploded, with Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) laughing so hard that he literally could not continue the statement that had been disrupted by the cellular commotion.

“Now I forgot what I was going to say, Mr. Chairman,” Quinn finally said.

“That was the point,” chirped Young.

Bruised and Battered? The fact that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is sporting a huge shiner around the Capitol just a few weeks before his bruising April 27 GOP primary battle with Rep. Pat Toomey is probably not a good sign for the incumbent.

Senate tongues were wagging big-time on Tuesday night when Specter rose to give a speech on the Senate floor and showed off a busted lip, two black eyes and a scary-looking nose. (This, of course, was not the first occasion that the infamously testy Specter has had his nose out of joint — at least not figuratively.)

It turns out that the former prosecutor was leaving a Philadelphia restaurant on Saturday night and fell nose-first on the sidewalk. In true lawyerly fashion, Specter has been telling colleagues that there was a “deficiency” in the sidewalk.

“As he puts it, his face is not cracked — just bruised,” Specter spokesman Bill Reynolds told HOH. “But the sidewalk is cracked.”

Indeed, the man must have a pretty hard head. But the folks at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee couldn’t resist the suggestion that Specter must be getting a whipping from Toomey to look this banged up.

After all, page 444 of the paperback edition of Specter’s memoir, “Passion for Truth,” has the Senator advising: “Never let your face show how hard your ass is being kicked.”

This led DSCC spokesman Brad Woodhouse to crack, “Like a gasping fish on the dock, when you flip and flop for long enough you’re eventually going to get bruised.”

Reynolds shot back, “We’ll be glad to talk to them after April 27th.”

Recipe for Disaster. Some Congressional staffers are hopping mad about the fact that federal officials are still “cooking” their clothes in a special oven to make sure the threads have been decontaminated — a full two months after the Senate ricin scare.

When traces of ricin were found in Sen. Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) mailroom, staffers in the Majority Leaders’s office and the immediate vicinity were dragged out to a special vehicle to get hosed down. Aides had to strip off all of their clothes and head home in white jumpsuits.

One staffer noted to HOH that he left behind an expensive business suit, a pricey winter overcoat and a briefcase, among other personal effects. “It’s a pain,” noted the staffer. “My dress winter coat costs money.”

So staffers have been waiting not-so-patiently for Capitol Police and Environmental Protection Agency officials to return the clothes and other personal effects. But there was yet another complication last week that has delayed delivery, according to an e-mail circulated Friday by Michael Hoskings, operations director for the Capitol Police.

Hoskings revealed that out of 14 pallets of clothes that had been stuck into an oven, three “failed to reach the maximum temperature” and will thus have to be cooked yet again.

“The recommendation is for the bags and contents be opened, evenly distributed, the packets placed with the contents, and reheated for another 24 hours,” Hoskings wrote to another police official.

A police spokeswoman did not comment on the matter to HOH. As you can image, this isn’t sitting too well with staffers who work in one of the most powerful cities in the world and yet have to deal with the prospect of lead in their drinking water and charbroiling their clothes.

Some staffers believe that Congress should have reimbursed them for the personal effects, rather than spend even more money on a drawn-out process that will probably result in clothing that will not even be worth wearing. “When these clothes come back, what are they going to look like?” noted one staffer.

Durbin Rips NPR. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to lash out at National Public Radio officials for ousting Bob Edwards, the longtime host of the “Morning Edition” program.

“For many of us, morning in America will not be the same,” Durbin said. “I’ve never met him but I really consider him a friend. He’s a reliable source of information, has a voice that calms me when terrible things are happening around the world — he is an American institution.”

Durbin tweaked NPR officials for not being honest in their press release about the fact that they had forced Edwards out, and he urged NPR dues-payers across the country to stage a “shareholders revolt” until the anchor is given his position back.

“We’ve listened to a lot of Bob Edwards on ‘Morning Edition’ lying down in our beds, but we shouldn’t take his dismissal from ‘Morning Edition’ lying down,” said Durbin, who told listeners to fire off an e-mail of protest at “Let’s see if we can tell our friends at National Public Radio that we have a national treasure that we can’t afford to lose.”

King of the Road. NASCAR star Jeff Gordon will be rolling through Capitol Hill today to get Hill staffers to register for the National Bone Marrow Registry.

Gordon has been a big supporter of the registry since 1992, when his crew captain’s son was diagnosed with leukemia. His car now races with “1-800Marrow2” on its side.

The racing icon will be joined at a press event by Perry Apelbaum, Democratic chief counsel on the House Judiciary Committee, who saved another man’s life in 2000 by agreeing to donate some of his bone marrow.

“We’re not going to be satisfied until we find a match for everyone,” Dr. Jeffrey Chell, head of the National Bone Marrow Donor Program, told HOH.

Strike Up the Band. The Capitol Hill Hyatt was rocking on Tuesday night when Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) threw a fundraiser with a Grateful Dead theme.

Mickey Hart, Joan Osborne and The Flying Other Brothers all performed at the concert, which tweaked Bush.

The Flying Other Brothers even handed out a CD with some of their songs, which include “Dubya” and “Ex” on the album. The latter song makes fun of the alleged partying habits of one of Bush’s daughters, with the cover of the CD noting: “What comes after Dubya? We ask ourselves, WWJD — What Would Jenna Drink?”

Embarrassment of Riches. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) is in the catbird’s seat when it comes to rooting allegiances in men’s college basketball, with two of his favorite teams making it to the Sweet 16.

So Bachus is placing wagers on behalf of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide against various Hill colleagues in the NCAA tourney.

There’s one bet with Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), whose Syracuse Orangemen will face Alabama on Thursday night. “I’ll wager a gallon of pure New York state maple syrup and a sack of New Hope Mills pancake mix,” Walsh said. “Winner takes all; no points.”

In turn, Bachus is wagering Alabama’s famous Johnny Ray’s Barbeque Chocolate Pies and Royal Cup Coffee on that game. And the same dessert will be on the line when UAB plays Friday against the University of Kansas, alma mater of Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.).

“After the Jayhawks dispose with UAB’s so-called ‘40 minutes of hell,’ that chocolate pie will taste like heaven,” boasted Moore, who’s putting up Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbeque pork burnt ends and a jug of their KC Original BBQ Sauce.

Jumping Ship. Just one day after scooping up embattled Republican rainmaker Jack Abramoff, Cassidy & Associates announced Wednesday that it has swiped three more of the lobbyist’s allies from Greenberg Traurig LLC.

Republicans Todd Boulanger and Jim Hirni as well as former Clinton administration aide Shana Telser have packed up their desks to join Abramoff at Cassidy in the next few days.

The exits are expected to be the first of several departures of lobbyists and clients from Greenberg Traurig in the wake of the firm’s decision to oust Abramoff, who is under Senate investigation.

Boulanger has worked with Abramoff since the two were at Preston Gates in 2000. Hirni, a former aide to Frist, was one of Abramoff’s newest hires at Greenberg Traurig.

Cassidy also announced a pair of other hires: Brian Dodge from Quinn’s House office and Michael Galloway from the office of Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.).

Brody Mullins contributed to this report.

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