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Dog Fight

The tiff between Reps. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) that began last week when Gohmert stole a sign from outside Shuler’s office and reached a head when Shuler flung an expletive at Gohmert on the House floor looks like it ain’t over yet. [IMGCAP(1)]

Gohmert, who was so enamored of Shuler’s Blue Dog Democrat sign depicting the daily federal deficit that he made off with it (the Texas Republican insists he only “borrowed” it), has formed a group to rival the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs. And he’s got a sign of his own now.

So there.

Gohmert took to the floor Tuesday night to show off his new signage, which is labeled “Blue Hound Dog Coalition” in a sort-of-tribute to the Blue Dog Dems. Gohmert tells HOH he was surprised at how “sensitive” Democrats were over the sign-borrowing incident. His own display has a similar message, he said.

“It ‘hounds’ the same good point that the party in charge needs to restrain runaway spending,” Gohmert said.

As for the newly formed Blue Hound Dogs, it turns out that the group’s a one-man operation. “I’m pretty sure he’s the only one in it,” Gohmert’s spokeswoman said.

Still, the original Blue Dogs don’t seem to be willing to throw Gohmert and his new group a bone. “The Republicans left this country a fiscal mess after years of out-of-control deficit spending, and I am happy to see that our friends across the aisle are finally acknowledging the lingering effects of their irresponsible fiscal policies,” Co-chairman Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said of the furry company.

Bat Senator, the Sequel. Sen. Patrick Leahy is getting another chance to indulge his obsession with Batman comics. The bat-loving Vermont Democrat will appear in the upcoming installment of the big-screen Batman franchise, “The Dark Night,” slated to be released in 2008 and starring hunky Christian Bale as the elusive superhero. Leahy’s penchant for the character is well-known; he made a brief appearance in the 1997 Batman movie “Batman and Robin,” and he also lent his voice to an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series.”

An HOH spy overheard Leahy telling his barber during a Wednesday haircut in the Russell Senate Office Building that he hadn’t had a trim in a while, since he had let his hair grow out for the role.

The Senator also mentioned a recent all-night filming session that went on “too damn long” and that he’s donating what he makes from the film to charity, the HOH eavesdropper spills.

Sounds intriguing, but Leahy’s staffers were mum about the Senator’s upcoming cameo.

Leahy’s in good company: In addition to Bale, the all-star cast reportedly includes A-listers such as Gary Oldman, Heath Ledger and Morgan Freeman.

Land Shark. Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-Colo.) Wednesday effort to send a fruit basket to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was a bust, but at least it resulted in a tasty snack for one lucky Tancredo staffer.

Tancredo put together a package of produce for Chertoff in an effort to refute the secretary’s claims to reporters earlier this week that fruit and lettuce were going unpicked because immigration laws were being enforced. Tancredo, who is staunchly against the administration-backed immigration reform efforts, dispatched Deputy Press Secretary T.Q. Houlton with the basket.

Once at the DHS offices, though, Houlton was turned away. “They made it clear in no uncertain terms that the Department of Homeland Security was uninterested in accepting our gift,” Houlton tells HOH.

But the mission wasn’t totally in vain — it did provide Houlton with his daily dose of fruits and veggies. “An armed guard took down my name and I was sent on my way to enjoy the fruit basket on my own,” he said. “It was good.”

Whiff of a Scandal. A conservative watchdog group hungry for a Democratic ethics target took a swing and a miss at Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) this week, alleging that the freshman lawmaker may have violated ethics rules by accepting a $100,000 advance for his upcoming book “Taking The Hill.”

While certain book advances could potentially violate ethics rules, Murphy inked the deal before he was an elected official, and House ethics rules do not apply to private citizens.

“It is not an ethics violation,” asserted Adam Abrams, Murphy’s spokesman.

The Pennsylvania Democrat listed the payment on his recent financial disclosure forms, but they reflect his 2006 finances. Abrams said Murphy received the payment in December 2006. New Members were sworn in on Jan. 4, 2007.

Abrams added that Murphy sought verbal guidance from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics committee is formally known, last year. In response to press inquiries, Abrams said he contacted the ethics committee again this week and they reiterated that the book advance was not a violation because he was not a Member at the time.

The advance was highlighted by the Majority Accountability Project, a recently formed conservative watchdog headed up by two former senior Republican aides, Mike Brady and Michael Giuliani, who are seeking to put Democrats under the same level of scrutiny they say was placed on the GOP during its reign.

As the group notes, ethics accusations over book advances most recently peaked under former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who accepted — but later relinquished — a lucrative $4.5 million book deal in 1994 that resulted in a reprimand from the ethics committee and an ethics rules rewrite to bar similar agreements for House Members.

And here’s a memo for Members just itching to write the Great American Novel: One senior aide noted that any sitting Member should seek pre-clearance from the ethics committee before any deal is made. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) released an autobiography in 2004, but he opted not to accept an advance and made an inconsequential sum in royalties.

The Senate does not have any similar bans and includes several best-selling authors and current presidential aspirants, such as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Murphy, who at 33 is one of the chamber’s youngest Members, is writing a book chronicling his Philadelphia-area upbringing, Army career and 2006 election to Congress as part of the freshman class that brought a Democratic majority. It’s scheduled for a winter release and his spokesman said Murphy intends to donate a portion of the royalties to an undermined charity.

Susan Davis and CongressNow’s George Cahlink contributed to this report.

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