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Schumer’s Stargazing

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has quietly arranged for the entire Senate to head to the roof of the Dirksen Senate Office Building tonight with Smithsonian scientists in order to get a close look at the five planets that will be visible in the twilight sky for several days.

Senators from both parties, who have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye on much these days, will be using a Celestron C-14 telescope in order to view the cosmic convergence of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

“I look up at the sky and I can’t tell these five planets from a star or from some dust on my glasses,” Schumer told HOH.

So Schumer decided to ring up the Smithsonian to get experts to put the rare planetary sighting — which will not happen against for at least another 30 years — in full context for Senators. The event was supposed to happen Tuesday night but got pushed back because of weather.

Schumer said that everyone from Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) — along with her twin sons — is planning to join him in a bipartisan meeting that’s rare in the chamber these days.

Will all the stars align — literally — for Schumer and Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to finally settle their bitter differences over judicial nominations?

“The heavens are everybody’s,” said Schumer. “Maybe under the sign of Saturn, we will make peace on the judiciary.”

That’s probably pie in the sky.

Frist Cashing In? Democrats are trying to make hay with the fact that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who has accused Richard Clarke of “profiteering” with his new book on terrorism, may have tome trouble of his own.

Frist, who was the lead Senate spokesman during the anthrax crisis of 2001, wrote a subsequent book about bioterrorism, “When Every Moment Counts.”

Frist’s aggressive floor speech attacking Clarke last Friday, led Democrats to once again go to the review section of Amazon.com and attack the Senator. Several anonymous “reviewers” alleged that Frist was being hypocritical by saying of Clarke that it’s troubling for someone to “sell a book, trading on their service as a government insider with access to our nation’s most valuable intelligence, in order to profit” from it.

One senior Senate Democratic aide added to HOH: “Next time Karl Rove sends him a speech to read on the Senate floor, he may want to proof-read it first.”

The partisan blast drew a laugh from Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson, who noted that the Senator has donated all proceeds from his book to Samaritans Purse and the Tennessee Public Health Association.

“I hope that Richard Clarke would follow the lead of Senator Frist and donate every penny of the proceeds from the book to charity,” Stevenson told HOH.

Clarke has said he’s donating a portion of the proceeds to charity, but he can’t give up all of the money because Bush allies have allegedly put out word that they will never let him make any dough in D.C.

This has led radio talk show host Don Imus to offer to pay Clarke $100,000 a year with health insurance to serve as the chief security correspondent for the shock jock — if all of the book’s proceeds and advance will be given to the 9/11 families.

“I’ll put it in writing,” Imus vowed on Monday, according to The Hotline.

Nickel For Your Thoughts. House Members and staffers will get a first look at the nation’s newest coin when the United States Mint holds a special “nickel exchange” in the Rayburn House Office Building at 2 p.m. today.

“The new nickles will begin to appear in circulation in the coming days, but now is your chance to get your own not-yet circulated coins in mint condition!” boasted a flyer from the Treasury Department.

The new nickels, minted at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, will be available in $2 rolls. They mark the beginning of the Westward Journey Nickel Series and commemorate the bicentennials of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“I was surprised the GOP leadership let something that had to do with a French/American partnership be touted up here,” joked one Democratic aide.

Looks Like Snowe. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has quietly secured the coveted title of “America’s Funniest Senator,” leaving more prominent colleagues like Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the dust.

Adding to the sweetness of the victory for Snowe, a fellow female lawmaker — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) — earned the title of “America’s Unfunniest Senator” in the same competition.

How did the low-key Snowe beat everyone out? She came up with the wittiest response when a comedian — posing as a 10-year-old kid — sent letters to all Senators asking for a copy of their favorite joke for a school project.

“Senators actually took time from their busy schedules to write a joke, and send it to me,” wrote the comedian, John Hargrave, on his Web site zug.com. “Well, not to me, but to a lying ten-year-old kid.”

Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) wrote back: “What did the number 0 say to the number 8? Nice Belt!”

Kerry wrote back that the new Senate chaplain Barry Black was recently asked whether he looks out at the chamber each morning and prays for the lawmakers: “He said, ‘No, actually I look out at all those Senators and I pray for the country.”

No one will be surprised that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who can be a little geeky, wrote back a long complicated joke about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. And he was one of only a couple of Senators to actually use the goofy one-page form that Hargrave asked lawmakers to fill out.

Then there was Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.): “Why did the pig have ink all over his face? Because it came out of the pen.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was kind enough to include an autographed photo with this joke: “Latin isn’t dead. It’s just ‘Roman’ around.”

How about Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.): “Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road? He didn’t have any guts! Always have the guts to stand up for what you believe in!”

As you can tell, the competition was stiff. But Snowe somehow won by submitting a joke about Michaelangelo being stunned when he arrives at the pearly gates and watches a politician get into heaven ahead of him.

“We get a great many artists and religious people entering through the pearly gates,” St. Peter finally says, “but this is the first politician we’ve ever had!”

In zug.com’s online survey, Clinton secured a whopping 34 percent of the “unfunniest” votes because she was one of many lawmakers — a group which included crackup Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) — who didn’t respond.

Clinton was fairly funny at the Gridiron, such as when she mentioned her appreciated that columnist Bob Novak had told her what was in the chef’s secret sauce. “But was it really necessary to also give me his home address and Social Security number?” she cracked. So she’s going to have to do a better job of responding to 10-year-old kids.

In the funniest category of the online survey, 23 percent of respondents gave Snowe the nod for the best joke. Corzine and Kerry tied for second with 15 percent of the vote each.

Snowe was so ecstatic about this honor, that she actually agreed to a telephone interview with Hargrave, who demanded to know when she will address the fact that it’s like “chewing on a football” when you order Maine’s signature dish at a Red Lobster in Ohio.

“Red Lobster in Ohio,” she responded. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

Now you know why she’s the champ.

Going Postal. With the House seemingly coming into town just to rename post offices during many weeks this year, it was only fitting that the chamber actually voted on someone named Postal last night.

The House voted to name a post office on Long Island after Maxine S. Postal, a legislator who was widely admired in New York before her untimely death.

That certainly seems like a good gesture. But one question: Will this be known as the Postal Postal Building?

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