Empty Promises

Posted June 15, 2007 at 6:24pm

They don’t call it political theater for nothing. Staging a good press conference often requires a script and some props. [IMGCAP(1)]

At a pro-immigration rally Thursday, a group of politicians including Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) addressed reporters while picturesquely standing in front of an impressive tower of boxes they said contained letters from a million supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.

The letters were supposedly generated from a campaign by Univision radio personality Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo.

As the Members repeatedly referred to the letters and gestured toward the boxes allegedly containing them as evidence of the support for the immigration bill that is struggling in the Senate, a crack Roll Call photographer on hand at the event began to grow suspicious. He could see light shining through the handles of the boxes, indicating that they weren’t full.

Sure enough, a quick check revealed that the boxes were, indeed, completely empty.

Carlos Sanchez, spokesman for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which helped coordinate the event, said that actually bringing the 310 boxes full of the real, dead-tree letters that Sotelo collected would have presented a security headache in a box-spooked world. “We didn’t want to put Capitol Police through the stress of having hundreds of boxes out there,” he said of the event’s Russell Park location.

Turns out, figuring out what the heck to do with the boxes is tougher than you’d think. Sotelo traveled with them in an 18-wheeler across the country to deliver them, but they couldn’t just be dumped at the Capitol. Now, nonprofit groups are divvying them up and will spend the next weeks sorting them by Congressional district for delivery to the proper Hill offices, Sanchez said.

HOH is shocked — shocked — to learn that in politics, as in theater, all is not as it seems.

He Does Windows, Too. Call your Senator’s office to complain about the immigration bill, and you’re likely to get an automated response asking you to leave a message or, at best, a low-level staffer to listen to you spout off.

Unless, that is, you’re a lucky caller to the office of Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott. The Mississippi Republican occasionally personally answers the phones in his Washington, D.C., office.

Spokesman Nick Simpson said Lott has always had a rule that every call to the office must be answered by the second ring. If it isn’t, “he’s likely just to answer it himself,” Simpson said. And the recent massive increase in the volume of calls, attributable to the hot-button immigration bill, is making it more likely that callers will reach the Senator himself.

“I was taking calls in my office this morning just to see what people are saying,” Lott said of his multitasking last week.

Simpson recently overheard his boss answer a call and yak with the surprised caller, who hailed from California, for a good 15 minutes. “That’s longer than any lobbyist gets,” he said.

By the end of the conversation, Lott was trying to convince the man to move to Mississippi.

It might be seen as good constituent service, or as a way to keep one’s finger on the proverbial pulse. HOH, though, has a theory: The notably loquacious Lott just likes to talk.

President Bartlett, I Presume? Remember those “Martin Sheen Is My President” stickers and T-shirts? The actor who famously portrayed a cerebral prez on NBC’s late White House drama “The West Wing” showed during a visit to Washington last week that he has at least a few qualifications for the highest office in the land.

First of all, he showed he can be bipartisan. He appeared at a news conference with Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) to promote “drug courts” and taped a news segment for ABC in the Congressman’s office on Thursday. Later that night, he was spotted palling around with Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) at Capitol Hill haunt Johnny’s Half Shell.

He also knows how to work a crowd like a real POTUS. HOH spies who spotted the gray-haired actor at Johnny’s tell us he affably stopped and chatted with fans, even posing for a picture with a table of women, while Kennedy acted as an impromptu photographer.

Orange Becomes Him. Watergate figure Chuck Colson is coming to the Hill, and the visit is bringing to mind some other famous jailbirds like Paris Hilton and potential jumpsuit-wearer Scooter Libby.

The author of the new book “God and Government: An Insider’s View of the Boundaries Between Faith & Politics” is holding a meet-and-greet on Wednesday for Members, spouses and chiefs of staff in the Russell Senate Office Building. Colson, after serving time in the hooskow for his role as adviser to President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal, went on to become an advocate for prison ministry.

But he’s apparently remembered most for his own stint in the clink.

“When Chuck Colson boasts of being an ‘insider,’ I think more ‘Big House’ than ‘White House,’” one chief of staff laughed to HOH.

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