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Chris Dodd’s Lott Moment?

It looks like Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) got a little carried away with a tribute speech last week upon the occasion of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) casting his 17,000th vote in the chamber.

In words that Republicans believe sound awfully similar to the comments

that knocked Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) out of the GOP leadership, Dodd said, “It has often been said that the man and the moment come together. I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia that he would have been a great Senator at any moment. Some were right for the time. Robert C. Byrd, in my view, would have been right at any time.”

Despite the charges of racial insensitivity that have been lobbed at Byrd over the years, Dodd added that his colleague “would have been right during the great conflict of Civil War in this nation” and at other key times. “I cannot think of a single moment in this nation’s 220-plus-year history where he would not have been a valuable asset to this country,” said Dodd. “Certainly today that is not any less true.”

While Byrd was not yet serving in the Senate during the Civil War, he has admitted that he was on the wrong side of history 100 years later when he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Byrd has also apologized for the fact that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan long before he became a Senator, and he was roundly criticized in 2001 for using the N-word during an interview on the Fox News Channel.

Democrats contend that Dodd’s comments are not as jarring as Lott’s claim at Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) 100th birthday party that if the now-deceased Senator had been elected president as the segregationist candidate in 1948, “We wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”

But Robert Traynham, the highest-ranking black Republican staffer on Capitol Hill and communications director for Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.), on Tuesday challenged Democrats to condemn Dodd’s comments.

“As a result of the Conference’s outreach to African-American leaders, I have heard from a number of folks that we work with who are outraged with the comments that Senator Dodd made suggesting that Senator Byrd would have been a great leader for the country, and am deeply perplexed by the silence we hear from the very same people who express outrage when they hear Republicans make comments they believe embody discriminatory sentiments,” Traynham told HOH.

Other black conservatives like commentator Armstrong Williams are also lodging charges of hypocrisy against Dodd, who told CNN during the Lott flap, “If Tom Daschle or another Democratic leader were to have made similar statements, the reaction would have been very swift. I don’t think several hours would have gone by without there being an almost unanimous call for the leader to step aside.”

Williams, who was highly critical of Lott in 2002, told HOH on Tuesday: “What [Dodd] said was worse than what Trent Lott said. It’s raw racism. The fact that the Democrats have said nothing about his racist, bigoted comments shows that when Republicans say something they get tossed out of office — but Democrats get away with it.”

Dodd spokesman Marvin Fast gave HOH an official statement noting that several of the Senator’s colleagues, including Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), delivered speeches praising Byrd. “Like Senator Frist, who called Senator Byrd a ‘legend of the Senate,’ Senator Dodd’s remarks addressed the totality of Senator Byrd’s career and not specific votes. The inference that Senator Dodd’s remarks somehow indicate support for Senator Byrd’s past actions related to civil rights is patently silly and absurdly off the mark.”

Fast added: “Senator Byrd has stated repeatedly that he regrets his vote on the 1964 civil rights bill and has called his past affiliation with the KKK the ‘most egregious mistake’ he ever made. Despite those mistakes, Senator Dodd continues to believe that Senator Byrd’s career should be measured in its totality, and that his love of our country and Constitution would make him a remarkable Senator whenever he served.”

Fix Was In? Did the game show’s producers stack the deck against radio and TV talk show host Tavis Smiley at this past weekend’s taping of “Jeopardy Power Players” in D.C.?

Smiley is good-naturedly blowing the whistle on the fact that he believes the producers gave an unfair advantage to NBC’s Tim Russert and ex-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman when the three celebs faced off for charity.

“Nobody had told me that Russert got to pick the first category and the first category he picked was ‘Meet the Press,’” noted Smiley. “I’m thinking, ‘Am I supposed to laugh or is this set up for Russert to win?’ And Russert kills that category.”

After Russert jumped out to that early lead, the stars aligned for Whitman during Double Jeopardy. “There’s a category called ‘New Jersey Exits’ for the former New Jersey governor,” recalled Smiley. “First I’m getting upset, but then I’m saying, ‘Calm down, it’s for charity.’ But I never got a category. Which one was mine — Nuclear Physics?”

Smiley said he held his tongue on the set because he didn’t want to sound like a sore loser. But then he dialed up his cellphone when he got to the airport to head back to California.

“I called the producer and said, ‘I enjoyed the experience. But was there a category that popped up for me that I wasn’t aware of?’” noted Smiley, who didn’t get a satisfactory answer. “I was, quite frankly, a little annoyed. I didn’t expect to win, but I didn’t expect to get sabotaged.”

HOH can’t feel too sorry for Smiley, however, since he flubbed an answer referencing “The Newspaper of Capitol Hill” since 1955 during the show.

“It was embarrassing to get Roll Call wrong,” Smiley admitted with a laugh. “I’m still kicking myself in the behind. I opened my mouth and meant to say ‘Roll Call.’”

You’ll have to tune in to find out whether the talk show host was able to catch up to Russert and Whitman, as well as to find out about the performances of other folks like CNN’s Tucker Carlson, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward (who somehow missed a couple of Watergate questions, according to insiders).

Smiley, meanwhile, is still licking his wounds. “What they did was a little janky — to use ebonics,” he said. “It was nasty, it was wrong, it was unfair. It was janky.”

Don’t Mess With Mother Nature. HOH’s guard was up when the following press release from the offices of Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) came over on April Fool’s Day:

“Due to rainy conditions, the Get Outdoors Act Press Conference has been moved indoors to room 2257 Rayburn House Office Building at 11:00 a.m.”

This had to be a gag: An event promoting legislation that would provide money for state and local governments to improve bike paths and the like to encourage citizens to get outside and exercise had to be moved indoors?

But Miller spokesman Tom Kiley confirmed to HOH that this was not a joke. Rain had indeed forced the press conference inside.

“Mother Nature is one thing, but when it comes to the legislative process, we approach it like the old rhyme says: Whether the weather is fine, or whether the weather is not, we’ll weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not,” quipped Kiley.

Where the Buffalo Roam. House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) is on the hunt for campaign cash in South Dakota.

Anyone willing to shell out $5,000 to Pombo’s leadership PAC can attend a buffalo hunt with the chairman that will be hosted by The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians and The Rosebud Sioux Tribe on April 19.

The fundraiser in Mission, S.D., will be a bit longer than your typical grip-and-grin event in D.C. It will span eight hours, starting with a noon luncheon and concluding with a “Buffalo feed dinner” from the game that’s collected during the hunting.

As if that’s not enough, the invite instructs donors to call ahead if “you are interested in pheasant or prairie dog hunting prior to the official event.”

Richardson for Veep? Kenneth McClintock, the Minority Leader of the Puerto Rican Senate, would love to see New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson become the Democratic vice presidential candidate.

“He calls me his favorite Hispanic,” McClintock told HOH with a laugh. “He says I’m the only Hispanic with a more gringo name than him.”

But McClintock doesn’t think his friend will get the nod to serve on the Democratic ticket with Sen. John Kerry (Mass.). He believes it will go to a Democrat from Florida, either Sen. Bob Graham or Sen. Bill Nelson.

“In 2000, if Bob Graham or Bill Nelson assures us Florida, it’s end of story,” said McClintock. “I would say Kerry and a Floridian.”

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