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Pedro and W

Did Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) really chew out President Bush over the phone? The short answer is yes — but not really.

It all began when the fast- (and tough-) talking New York Republican greased the wheels for some New York firefighters who were dispatched to New Orleans for rescue-and-cleanup patrol after Hurricane Katrina. The firefighters wanted to meet the president during his brief stopover in the wiped-out city, so they called their man King to see if he could put the fix in. [IMGCAP(1)]

New York City Fire Department Deputy Chief Bob Maynes called King on Sunday to say that he heard Bush was coming to the Big Easy, and that he and his team would like to meet the commander in chief. Any strings to be pulled, Congressman?

“I figured the odds were zero,” King said. But he put a call into the White House anyway, then went on about his business, attending a 9/11 anniversary candlelight vigil Sunday. As he walked back to his car after the vigil, he retrieved an hours-old voice mail message from Maynes saying something like, “Thanks for your help. Looks like we might get to meet the president after all.”

Excited for his boys, King called Maynes back to see if they were successful. Battling overloaded mobile phone service, he finally got through on the fourth try and was startled — and maybe a little irked — to hear a voice saying, “You should be down here with your men.”

What?! “Hey, I was trying to set up the meeting for you! Did it work out?” replied a slightly perturbed King. (Or at least that’s what he recalls saying. HOH has a hunch that the language was a bit stronger.)

Again, the voice came back: “Pedro, how come you’re not down here?” By now, the jig was up: It was W himself, who nicknamed King “Pedro” some time ago. And by now, Pedro was shaking in his boots.

“I thought I was talking to the fireman!” King said, laughing with embarrassment. He says he told Bush, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was you, Mr. President.”

“Gee, this guy doesn’t even know who he’s talking to!” Bush said to the New York firefighters, laughing his trademark laugh.

Bush, who had obviously grabbed the phone when Maynes saw that it was King calling, seemed to forgive Pedro. King said the president thanked him for being at the White House two days earlier for the medal ceremony honoring cops and firefighters killed in the line of duty on 9/11, and said of the firefighters, “These New York guys are great. They’re the best.”

Maybe a couple of photo-ops with those great, best guys in uniform could have boosted Bush’s approval ratings after Katrina struck!

Partisan Politics by Wayside. It’s not every day that a Democratic donor writes a $50,000 check to a Republican Member of Congress. But it happened, on Sept. 2, when House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) auctioned off one of his collectibles at the Kruse International Labor Day auto show in Indiana after taking heat from Democrats and journalists for initially deciding not to return to Washington, D.C., to approve Katrina relief legislation, and for saying it “doesn’t make sense” to spend billions of dollars to rebuild New Orleans.

The guy who bought Hastert’s 1977 Lincoln Continental is Houston attorney John O’Quinn, who also has written major checks this year to groups like the Progressive Patriots Fund, the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and the failed bid by former Texas Rep. Martin Frost to become Democratic National Committee chairman.

Hastert turned over every Democratic penny of his 50 grand to the American Red Cross hurricane relief mission. “It’s nice to see people put partisanship aside and put money towards Hurricane Katrina relief charities,” Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said.

Coburn: Can’t We All Just Get Along? Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) had a Rodney King moment during confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts on Monday.

During his opening statement on the conformation’s first day of hearings, Coburn got choked up during an appeal for bipartisanship when he said, “When I ponder our country … my heart aches for less divisiveness, less polarization, less finger-pointing, less bitterness and less mindless partisanship, which, at times, sounds almost hateful to the ears of ordinary Americans.”

But not everyone was taken in by the display of emotion. Keen observers noticed that moments before, Coburn had been doing a crossword puzzle from his seat in the hearing room. One snide Democratic observer who doubted the sincerity of Coburn’s speech said, “And his head hurts for easier crossword puzzles.”

He’s Baaack. Former Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), after doing his best Dick Cheney routine, is out of hiding and back in the public spotlight. On Monday he made his first media appearance since leaving the Justice Department in February, appearing as a color commentator on CNN alongside veteran journalist-talking-heads Jeff Greenfield and Jeffrey Toobin.

And if that’s not enough for you, hang on to your seats. The former attorney general and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who formed the Ashcroft Group earlier this year, is expected to be doing lots and lots of TV in the weeks and months ahead.

“He’s enjoyed his hiatus, but he’s one of the most experienced negotiators of the Washington terrain. Folks have been asking for him and now he’s happy to comment, consult and advise,” boasts his former spokeswoman, Juleanna Glover Weiss, who also joined the newly up-and-running Ashcroft Group.

Republicans Win Again. Republicans retained their coveted Roll Call Cup on Monday in the annual Congressional Ryder Cup competition, which this year raised money to benefit charities helping with Hurricane Katrina relief.

The GOP golfers, led by Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio), won 10.5 to 9.5 to keep the title. The players raised $100,000 for the First Tee program to benefit youth. An additional $20,000 will be donated by the golfing Members to the hurricane-relief charity of their choice.

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