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HOH is surprised that it took this long for the scandal involving Idaho Sen. Larry Craig to get ripped from the headlines and put on prime-time TV. [IMGCAP(1)]

Just days after the Republican’s home-state newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, reported that several men allege they had sexual relations with Craig, ABC’s legal comedy-drama “Boston Legal” mined Craig’s alleged cruising for sex in the men’s bathroom for an of-the-moment plotline. The show’s writer, David E. Kelly, inserted “Boston Legal” lead character Denny Crane — a role memorably played by William Shatner — into a Craig-esque situation on Tuesday night’s episode, titled “Oral Contracts.” Unlike Craig, who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, Shatner’s character decided to fight charges that he tried to solicit gay sex in a courthouse men’s room.

And as if Congress wasn’t getting a bad enough rap already, Shatner’s lawyer, played by James Spader, used the unlikely legal tactic of listing a litany of Congressional ethical abuses from spousal abuse to shoplifting as reasons why Shatner should get off the hook.

HOH can’t be sure whether the show’s regaling of malfeasance by Members of Congress is accurate (and we all know that courtroom dramas are usually so realistic). But one of the most obvious examples the show missed is the unofficial “jail caucus.” There are currently four ex-Members serving time in the clink: former Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), James Traficant (Ohio) and Frank Ballance Jr. (D-N.C.).

Craig is probably hoping that life imitates art in his case, since the fictional Crane was cleared of the charges.

National Velvet. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) was looking dapper on the House floor yesterday, sporting a deep-red velvet jacket accented by a white pocket square, a flashy ensemble that stood out among the sea of drab pinstripes. While HOH thought the special ensemble might have something to do with the red-hot legislation Conyers was debating, a bill that would create a registry of arsonists, it actually was for the annual committee holiday party that afternoon, says his spokeswoman Melanie Roussell. Conyers, she noted, had something other than the holiday season to celebrate — it’s the first time in 12 years Democrats have had the honor, as the majority party, of hosting the soiree. The fete for Committee members, past and present staff, administration officials, and members of the Michigan delegation included food and a small jazz band. “On the day of the Judiciary Committee’s holiday party, Chairman Conyers wanted to spread holiday cheer not just to the Judiciary Committee, but to the entire House of Representatives and C-SPAN junkies as well,” said Roussell of her boss’s festive attire. “He sends his special holiday greetings to Heard on the Hill for noticing.”

Not to downplay HOH’s fashion radar or anything, but we’re guessing the plush velvet jacket attracted plenty of attention.

Puppet Show. The doldrums of a gridlocked Senate were broken, if ever so briefly, on Wednesday, when Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) took to the chamber floor to chastise Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for calling Specter and his 48 GOP colleagues “puppets” of the Bush administration.

Noting that Reid relies on Republicans to conduct business in the chamber, Specter warned that “he doesn’t improve his case when he starts calling us puppets. I wonder if he is up to the job when he resorts to that kind of a statement, which only furthers the level of rancor and insults and animosity with that kind of an insulting comment.”

Specter was responding to Reid’s earlier comments on the floor criticizing the GOP’s reputation for acting in near-lockstep in support of President Bush. During his floor speech, Reid called Bush “the man who is pulling the strings on the 49 puppets he has here in the Senate.”

In his speech, Specter also questioned whether Reid had broken Rule 19, which prohibits Members from personally attacking each other on the floor. A violation of the rule could result in a public chastising of Reid.

Commented a Democratic aide: “There’s no way that was a Rule 19 violation. Sen. Specter must have thought he was calling them sock puppets. I think Sen. Reid was clearly referencing marionettes, a far more distinguished, high-brow form of puppet worthy of being compared to a U.S. Senator.”

Because the rule requires that an objection be raised in a “timely manner” — and because the chairmanship is controlled by Democrats — it is unlikely Specter or any of his colleagues will actually raise a formal objection.

Westmoreland, Abercrombie Bury Hatchet, Sort of. There certainly hasn’t been any love lost between Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) this session over legislative issues. HOH readers may remember the disagreement that almost broke into fisticuffs when Westmoreland unsuccessfully tried to add an amendment in September to the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act that would strike housing funding for Native Hawaiians. The gentleman from Hawaii made his frustration with Westmoreland known, saying he would tell him “a lot more physically” if not for the confines of House decorum.

But the pair seem to have put the fighting behind them, at least for the moment, engaging in that most time-honored of Congressional clichés, the cutesy college-football bet. Tuesday night, Abercrombie and Westmoreland agreed to a wager on the House floor. If the University of Georgia wins the Sugar Bowl, Abercrombie will cough up a case of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. But if the University of Hawaii prevails, Westmoreland will pony up a half-bushel of Georgia peaches and chocolate-covered pecans.

Though the bet was a friendly one, Westmoreland didn’t leave his fighting gloves completely off, firing off a little trash talk in the direction of his colleague. “Neil’s in the majority and I’m in the minority, so he’s had some success at beating my amendments on the floor,” Westmoreland tells HOH. “Now I believe that I’m the one with the built-in advantage because Georgia’s played a much tougher schedule, they’re top five in the nation, Bulldogs don’t wear flowers to games and we’ve never been called the Rainbows.”

To Be Continued. Mike McHaney, the former scheduler for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) arrested for allegedly arranging to have sex with a 13-year-old boy, remains in federal custody after he waived a preliminary hearing on Wednesday. His attorney, Thomas Abbenante, said he wanted more time to review the evidence against McHaney, which includes a number of computer records. A new hearing is set for Jan. 14, but Abbenante could ask for a hearing before then to determine whether McHaney should remain behind bars. McHaney was arrested last Friday in an FBI sting.

A Cheesy Gesture. Rep. Rahm Emanuel has a reputation as a bare-knuckles, potty-mouthed partisan. But Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) got a glimpse of the Illinois Democrat’s softer, fuzzier (and bipartisan) side. LaHood’s birthday is today, and Emanuel sent his fellow Illinoisan a sweet birthday surprise. Yesterday, a cheesecake from the famous Eli’s bakery in Chicago arrived at the Republican’s office with a note. “Ray, If nothing else comes from my congressional career, I at least have a new friend,” it read, under Emanuel’s signature.

“They have a special relationship,” says LaHood spokeswoman Joan DeBoer.

And if it weren’t surprising enough that a friendship has struck up between the two men, here’s something else unexpected: The note, HOH is told, contained no swear words.

Diapers All Around. A baby boom is going strong in the House. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and his wife, Elizabeth, announced the birth of a baby daughter Wednesday, and Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) revealed that her second child is due in May. Little Evelyn Nunes and Elizabeth are doing well, according to a statement from Nunes’ office. Gillibrand’s pregnancy will make her the sixth lawmaker to have a baby while she’s in office. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-Wash.), who is the fifth such lawmaker after giving birth to son Cole in April, probably has some tips for juggling a new baby and a legislative calendar.

HOH is awaiting word on whether the House will install changing tables in the Cloakrooms.

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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