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Novak Stirs the Pot — Again

An otherwise quiet Capitol Hill was buzzing Monday about conservative columnist Robert Novak’s latest scathing column, in which he denounced Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) as an inexperienced and ineffective leader and implied that GOP Senators are unhappy with Frist.

[IMGCAP(1)] Novak wrote that Republicans have been on “a catastrophic course” with Frist as their leader, citing “multiple parliamentary” blunders.

First had an excuse for looking “haggard” last week when he addressed fellow GOP Senators, Novak wrote. “He was in the middle of two of the worst weeks for any Senate leader in memory. Republicans pulled defeat from the jaws of victory when Democrats killed a bill to curb trial lawyers. That was followed by last week’s fiasco, when Republicans could not win even a simple majority to ban homosexual marriages,” Novak wrote, adding this biting line: “The 49-member Democratic minority was running the Senate.”

So which backbiting Republican Senator, or Senators, helped Novak along to this conclusion?

It’s not an easy guessing game, given that Novak is as close as one gets to being a fly on the wall in the GOP Cloakroom. But some tantalizing clues have emerged.

The closest any Republican Senator has come to criticizing Frist openly may be Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who complained about not getting Senate consideration of his bill on immigrant agricultural workers.

But another, better-known figure attracted the lion’s share of the speculation Monday. One of the most popular guesses going was Novak’s lunch date last Thursday: Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and, oh yeah, the guy who used to have Frist’s job and who used to make the trains run impeccably on time.

Lott’s spokeswoman, Susan Irby nixed this inspired guess, however. She confirmed that Lott did, indeed, have lunch with Novak last Thursday in the Senate Dining Room, but she said they did not talk about Frist.

Irby said Lott described Novak as a “longtime associate” going back to the days when Lott was a Whip in the House.

“They discussed events of the past, including Newt Gingrich and Jack Kemp, and events of future — the presidential campaign,” Irby said.

She said Lott told her, “I specifically declined to discuss or comment on the subject of today’s column.”

Puffy Gets Out the Vote. Hip-hop mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs is launching a new “get out the vote” campaign today in Manhattan. This one, like the slew of others out there, is aimed at 18 to 35 year olds.

But Combs’ spokesman, Jamal Simmons, says what sets Puffy’s GOTV effort apart from the others is that his ties “a lot of the different organizations together under one umbrella.” (Woops. HOH failed to ask: Is that the same umbrella that Puffy’s personal valet, Farnsworth Bentley, carries?)

Puffy’s political campaign, wittily dubbed Citizen Change, capitalizes on the unprecedented political participation of celebrities in this year’s election. He has recruited an all-star cast to rap with the young folk — and get they butts to the polls in November. The roster includes Rapper L.Z.; Comedian Ellen DeGeneres; Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons; big-screen heartbreaker Leonardo DiCaprio; and Democratic stalwart James Carville.

Russell Simmons, considered by some to be the godfather of hip-hop, is scheduled to attend tomorrow’s event to kick off Citizen Change.

Combs’ spokesman, Jamal Simmons (no relation to Russell Simmons) was coy about what his boss’s role might be at the Democratic convention next week, but he said: “You can expect to see him in Boston.”

As for Puffy’s decision to get involved in this year’s election process, Simmons said, “This is an effort by a bad boy to do some good.” (Explainer: Simmons was referring to Combs’ day job as CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment, not to the star’s acquittal on 1999 gun charges following a shooting at a New York nightclub.)

Simmons said, in Puffy’s words, “it’s urgent” that young people start voting, so he decided to use “the power of celebrities” to motivate them.

CNN Exclusive: Mila Henry. Former HOH scribe Ed Henry and his wife Jen got a miracle over the weekend.

Their daughter, Mila Taylor Henry, was born at 12:33 a.m. on Sunday weighing in at a dainty yet respectable 6 pounds, 10 ounces.

Mila is an Americanized version of Milagros. In Tagalog — a language spoken in the Philippines, where Jen Henry’s parents are from — that means “miracle.” Taylor, the baby’s middle name, is Ed’s mother’s maiden name.

And just like a chip off the old block, Mila isn’t camera shy! She became a TV star almost instantly upon arrival. No sooner could she cry than she made a star appearance on CNN’s “Inside Politics” show Sunday — even though her proud dad, now a CNN correspondent, had to skip work that day.

Sunday’s “Inside Politics” anchor, Kelly Wallace, aired a picture of newborn Mila, explaining that Ed Henry had good reason not to be at work that day. Baby Mila evoked several glowing reviews, which Ed received on his BlackBerry at the hospital.

“Based on early reviews, it looks like Mila may have a future in this business,” Ed told HOH, his smile beaming through the phone line. He said even his own sister saw her new niece for the very first time on national television.

Mila has a big brother waiting for her at home: three-year-old Patrick Henry. Behind Curtain No. 1. Tucked amid the six- and seven-figure donations in the July filing of Joint Victory Campaign 2004 — one of the largest progressive soft-money organizations raising funds for the November election — was a $500 contribution from one Monty Hall.

Even non-game show fanatics might know him as the same Monty Hall who hosted “Let’s Make a Deal” from 1963 to 1986 and then, later, for the show’s brief — though apparently not triumphant — return in the 1990s.

Hall, now 80, has made a handful of donations so far this cycle, including $250 to the failed presidential campaign of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) and $600 to California Rep. Tom Lantos (D).

In 2002, Hall showcased his bipartisan stripes, chipping in $500 to the re-election campaign of Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.