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Testing out Coach

Could former Tennessee Senator turned fictional district attorney turned Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson be making a play as an “Everyman” candidate? [IMGCAP(1)]

Thompson, who was usually ferried about on the campaign trail via the private plane of his former campaign official Philip Martin, made a conspicuous appearance at Reagan National Airport on Sunday evening as he and a staffer hopped on a regular old commercial flight to Manchester, N.H.

The low-budget move had nothing to do with the publicity of Thompson’s longtime friend and former fundraiser Martin’s rap sheet as a bookie and drug dealer coming to light over the weekend, according to Thompson’s camp (though they did put out word on Monday that he wouldn’t be using Martin’s plane anymore).

Rather, Thompson just wanted to make sure to catch the big game. “He took a later flight because he wanted to watch the Patriots and Colts game,” Thompson spokesman Darrel Ng said. Thompson, who was rooting for the Colts, left disappointed as the Patriots eked out a 24-20 win over former Thompson campaign volunteer turned National Football League quarterback Peyton Manning.

Don’t expect the former “Law & Order” star to be taking coach more regularly, though. Ng says Thompson’s policy on commercial flights hasn’t changed a bit. “He takes them whenever they are convenient,” he said.

Fire in the Hole. Senate staffers wondered Monday if the culprit behind the seven recent Senate-side fires was getting a bit more fearless after smoke billowed from Minority Whip Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) office.

But not to worry — it was only Lott’s staffers trying to heat their cold front office by building a toasty blaze in the office fireplace. Unfortunately, the flue wasn’t completely open.

“In an attempt to cut the chill, we tried to light a fire only to find where the Democrats had been hiding their backlog of legislation and appropriations. But now that we’ve cleared the jam, maybe we can finish up our work before we have to start burning Yule logs,” a Lott spokesman said.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have attempted setting fires in the Capitol. In 2003, then-House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce’s (Ohio) staff threw a log into the fireplace of her hideaway but only came up with smoke because — again — the chimney flue wasn’t fully opened.

“We were working on some rhetoric near the mantel and it was so good it caught fire,” explained Pryce spokesman Greg Crist at the time, adding: “If Democrats don’t agree on an energy package soon, we will need to open all the fireplaces in the Capitol.”

Case of Mistaken Identity. The National Association of Industrial and Office Properties was just trying to make its case against a climate bill when it sent a letter last week to the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection. The only problem — the group’s missive was addressed to subcommittee Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and former Virginia Gov. turned-Senate candidate Mark Warner (D), not the panel’s ranking member, Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner.

While the senior Senator from Virginia may be on his way out, he hasn’t vacated his office, leaving a bit of an embarrassment for the trade group to clean up. “It obviously was a typo and we certainly didn’t mean to cause any speculation about future Senate races,” said John Bryant, director of federal affairs for the group.

Calendar Conundrum. Democrats and Republicans seem to be having trouble agreeing on just about anything these days, including setting a tentative schedule for the rest of the year.

In the annual calendar sent out by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Minority Whip Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) offices last week, the pair apparently didn’t double-check, you know, the actual dates. So the calendar lists, in order, Nov. 18, 29 and then 20. Poor Nov. 19 was ignored entirely.

“I’m not sure where the 19th went. But since the Democrats have announced that they can accomplish just as little in a three-day workweek next year as they did with this year’s supposed five-day weeks, I’d expect a lot more days to go missing on future calendars,” joked a Republican leadership aide.

Made in China. The U.S.-Mexico border fence has been the topic of many a heated debate on Capitol Hill, but the most recent hot-button construction issue to catch the ire of Rep. Phil English comes from across the Pacific — China to be exact.

The Pennsylvania Republican sent a letter last week to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner after a steel worker from his district came forward with a photo showing the steel pipes used to construct the fence were stamped “China”.

While the Customs and Border Protection agency agrees that the markings are unsightly, English believes the agency is in violation of the Buy American Act. So far, English hasn’t heard whether DHS is going to take up an inquiry, according to his spokeswoman Julia Wanzco. “At the end of the day Congressman English wants to make sure the border fence doesn’t turn into another Great Wall of China,” Wanzco said.
Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.

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