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Office Politics, the Sequel

In Washington, D.C., the land of working lunches, power happy hours and business-card exchanges at the grocery store, it’s certainly not a no-no to mix business with pleasure. But it is taboo to intermingle campaigning and doing the people’s business, something Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) might just want to keep in mind. [IMGCAP(1)]

A Wednesday story in The New York Times about the departure of two top aides in McCain’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination leads with an anecdote from a meeting in McCain’s Senate office.

Aside from the tone of the meeting itself, which the Times describes as “loud and acrimonious,” there might be something amiss. See, Congressional ethics rules forbid the use of federal resources for political and campaign activity.

Election law expert Ken Gross says the occasional meeting in a candidate’s federal office shouldn’t set off any alarm bells, but he noted that candidates have to be careful not to run afoul of the rules or create the wrong impression. “You have to be careful about perception and about the intersection of politics and lawmaking, although the occasional meeting is inevitable,” he says.

HOH noted a similar mixing of the people’s business and campaign pleasure in an April issue of The New York Times Magazine. Accompanying a profile of David Axelrod, top political adviser to Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential bid, was a photo showing Obama and Axelrod in a meeting — in Obama’s Hill office.

Savvy candidates might want to take advice often offered to people engaged in unseemly PDA, at least when they’re in the presence of cameras and reporters: Just get a room!

Big Easy. It’s Day Three of the scandal enveloping Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who late Monday revealed that he was a client of “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the woman accused of running a call-girl ring servicing Washington’s power class. And even HOH can hardly keep pace with the scandalicious developments — Larry Flynt is claiming he’s responsible for Vitter’s contrite confession! And he has 20 other leads! Vitter also frequented a New Orleans brothel, its proprietor claims!

As the buzz builds, HOH offers a few fun facts:

• The date that Vitter reportedly called the madam, Feb. 27, 2001, was the day of President Bush’s first address to Congress during his presidency. “Together, we are changing the tone in the nation’s capital,” Bush told the joint House-Senate session that night. Sure, it’s a stressful night, what with all those interviews from Statuary Hall, and as a veteran of a few such nights herself, HOH can sympathize with the need to blow off a bit of steam. Most of us, however, just hit the bars.

• The Congressional Record for that date sheds only a little light on Vitter’s doings — it shows the then-House Member voted once, in the only roll-call vote of the day, which appeared to end just before 5:30 p.m.

• The proprietress of the New Orleans brothel who claims Vitter visited her “girls” reportedly met the Senator at a “fishing rodeo,” where she said she and her working girls had been hired to entertain local politicians. So what, many of us non-N’awlins folk want to know, is a fishing rodeo? Turns out, it’s just a competition, also known as a tournament, for catching the biggest fish.

• Bloggers and others dissecting the madam’s phone records (she posted them on her Web site, on Wednesday turned up at least two Senate phone numbers. Alas, the numbers are old ones — meaning they’re from before Vitter’s Senate career started — and the lines were either disconnected or nonworking (of course, HOH tried to dial!). And the sifting continues …

The Bridges of Nowhere County. Like a “Monty Python” character, Alaska’s infamous “Bridges to Nowhere” aren’t dead yet, despite taking a bloody beating.

The two Alaskan bridges to sparsely populated locations became a rallying cry for opponents of earmarks last year but have the vampiric quality of returning from the dead. Although Congress eliminated the explicit earmarks for the bridges last year, it didn’t prohibit Alaska from spending unearmarked funds on the bridges, and plans to build the bridges continue.

Appropriators on Wednesday killed an effort in committee by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to prohibit federal spending on the bridges.

“It appears that Congress doesn’t get the need for reform,” Kirk said after his amendment went down in a voice vote. He vowed to bring his amendment to the floor next week. “The Bridges to Nowhere are going to be built unless Congress changes its mind.”

Kirk was backed by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who predicted the amendment would pass overwhelmingly on the floor. “It’s going to happen,” he said.

But the loophole-closing measure rubbed some appropriators the wrong way, as it violated an unwritten rule against messing with another state’s allocations.

“I think it was stupid of Mark Kirk to bring it back,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). “To me it’s just politics,” said Simpson, who said it was a way for Kirk “to gain notoriety.”

If the proposal gets to the Senate, we’ll have to see if it sparks Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to threaten to resign again.

Paging Joan Rivers. Although she certainly gets star treatment befitting her position at the top of the House food chain, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) isn’t walking the red carpet these days. Her office in the Capitol this week debuted a new look, with the crimson carpeting that had lined the hallways gone, revealing the original tile work underneath.

A spokesman tells HOH that the carpet, whose age was unknown but is believed to go back at least five years, was starting to look a little shabby. The office decided to leave the historic tile floor exposed instead of covering it up again with new flooring.

Actually, the old carpet was downright ratty, plenty of reporters and other visitors had noticed. And reporters are particularly glad to see it go, since the carpet in the past had been used to delineate how far scribes could venture into the hallway.

(French) Kiss Him Goodbye. Apparently, it’s OK to show your support for the good ol’ bleu, blanc et rouge once more. The Congressional French Caucus will prove today that they’re more than just those guys who don’t order “freedom fries” in the Capitol cafeteria, as they hold a reception in honor of French Ambassador to the United States Jean-David Levitte.

Levitte is leaving his post for a job in recently elected President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government.

But don’t think caucus members are all cheese-eating, Béarnaise-sauce-swillers. According to the caucus co-chairman, Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the group is not meant to be “an apologist” for France but instead tries to “provide information and try to facilitate dialogue.”

Sure, sure — just pass us the baguette.

Susan Davis, Steven T. Dennis and Rob Silverblatt contributed to this report.

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