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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) wasn’t the only one in her office who was sick Monday. While the Senator was fainting during a speech in Buffalo, N.Y., many of her aides were sitting on or bent over toilets.

The Senator and at least 30 members of her staff in the New York and Washington offices got sick during a staff retreat at the Rye, N.Y., Hilton.

[IMGCAP(1)] Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Clinton, said the Senator was “suffering from a stomach virus” when she fainted during her speech to about 150 Democrats at the Saturn Club in Buffalo.

“She felt weak, needed to sit down, and then fainted briefly,” Reines said. “She received immediate medical attention at the site, and is now proceeding with her schedule as planned.”

Reines said the staff did not know what specifically caused the mini-epidemic. But knowing Reines, a Capitol Hill Casanova rumored to have chased Hollywood hottie Natalie Portman last year, he’ll find a way to get a free dinner out of Paris Hilton as compensation.

PhRMA Shakeup. Newly retired Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and his confidant Ken Johnson are shaking things up quickly at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, where Tauzin just became president and CEO.

Sources say that Johnson, the powerful lobby’s executive vice president, fired close to a dozen lobbying and media relations firms who have worked for PhRMA over the years.

Termination of those contracts, which sources say were worth more than $1.5 million a year, reflects a strategic shift away from a lobbying focus toward a public relations focus, particularly a preference for work by a big, centralized PR shop.

The firms cut loose were mainly smaller shops based outside Washington that had done state-specific work on Medicaid issues.

Johnson, a Congressional aide to Tauzin since 1993 who went to PhRMA one month ago, said those firms “had done a good job for PhRMA” but that “frankly, the model in place was unsustainable. As we roll out new public awareness campaigns in the future, we simply cannot have 50 PR firms scattered across 50 states.” He said such an arrangement was “costly” and “inefficient.”

Instead, Johnson said, PhRMA wants one national company that can represent PhRMA. Several national firms are now scrambling to snag that lucrative PhRMA contract. Among those mentioned as prospects are APCO Worldwide, Fleishman Hillard, Hill & Knowlton and Edelman Public Relations.

Tauzin, who was accused of negotiating his top-dollar job with PhRMA as he shaped major legislation to restructure Medicare, is accused by one critic on the Hill of firing the other firms in order to hire one of his friends on K Street. The source said the “safe money’s on some other FOB [Friend of Billy]-run shop” to get the contract.

But Johnson insists that the changes were his doing, and will be better for the industry. “It was my decision and mine alone,” Johnson said. “Everything we do has to be seen through the eyes of the patient.”

CBC to President: Learn History. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) says he’s “shocked” and “utterly amazed” by President Bush’s response to his question during last week’s Congressional Black Caucus meeting at the White House.

According to Jackson, the Congressman asked the president if the CBC could rely on him to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act when it comes up for renewal in 2007. Jackson said Bush had no clue what he was talking about. Jackson said the president basically said he “didn’t know enough about the law” to answer the question.

“To not know that the 1965 Voting Rights Act is the single largest moment of the civil rights movement …” Jackson said, sounding so disturbed that he could not complete his thought. He said he’s now expecting a “big fight” in 2007 over renewal of the Voting Rights Act without which he said most black politicians could not win election to Congress.

Jackson said he was stunned as he and other caucus members left the White House. “When we left, I whispered to the chairman of the caucus, ‘The news is that the president is not familiar with the Voting Rights Act.’”

Asked about the president’s comments, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Bush is “firmly committed to protecting the voting rights of all Americans.” McClellan said the president was “pleased” that the CBC met with him in the Cabinet Room at the White House, adding, “They had a very good discussion. The president wants to continue to look for ways we can work together. And in terms of the reauthorization of that section of the Voting Rights Act, the president said that he would take a look at it and take into consideration the concerns tha—”

Unfortunately, McClellan was interrupted, so it’s anyone’s guess how that sentence ends.

Paperback Writer. Brad Meltzer’s Capitol Hill thriller “The Zero Game,” published last year, is now coming out in paperback. Some 800,000 copies of the paperback version, published by Warner Books, are due out in bookstores today.

Meltzer, The New York Times bestselling author of “The Millionaires” and “The First Counsel,” immersed himself in the world of Congress while researching “The Zero Game.” He told HOH one of the best tricks he learned from interviewing Congressional staffers and lobbyists around town was “how to get your phone call returned in Washington.” The answer: Be vague when you leave a message.

Meltzer is already working on his next book — about gossip columnists. Hmmm. Come to think of it, Meltzer sure was vague when he left a message for HOH to call him back.

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