Mr. Congeniality

Posted December 18, 2007 at 6:47pm

On Tuesday, the Senate put aside the usual testiness that marks the end of a session to wax goopy about departing Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott. While the retiring Lott hasn’t always been the most popular lawmaker (remember when he had to step down from leadership in 2002 after raising a controversial toast to former Sen. Strom Thurmond?), his fellow colleagues on both sides of the aisle paid Lott tribute in remarks that focused more on the retiring Senator’s fashion sense, good looks, humor and schmoozing skills than his legislative accomplishments. [IMGCAP(1)]

Fellow GOP Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who likened Lott’s comeback in leadership to that of a “Phoenix rising out of the ashes,” got the morning rolling as he described Lott’s ability to work a crowd. For Specter, that was epitomized at the weekly Tuesday GOP luncheon. Specter, in a metaphor that makes us realize just how ancient these guys’ cultural references are, recalled Lott working the room like he was in “Club 21,” a former NYC prohibition speakeasy-turned-restaurant.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) joked how after Lott and Lott’s wife, Trish, visited Vermont, Leahy’s constituents couldn’t stop talking about how attractive the Mississippi lawmaker was and what great hair he had. To which Leahy responded, “I don’t need to talk to you anymore.”

And although Lott long will be known as one of the best dealmakers the Senate has seen, most of his colleagues instead noted his instrumental role in setting Senate fashion. Lott, as most everyone will recall, helped start the somewhat groan-worthy tradition of Seersucker Thursday. The yearly event, in which dozens of Senators sport the stripey suits, has gotten even the most traditional of Senate dressers, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), out of her fashion comfort zone. “‘Trent, be serious, I am from Maine. I won’t wear it.’ Of course, I showed up wearing it alive and well,” recalled Snowe of her reaction to the request that she wear such Southern attire as a seersucker suit.

Talk about a Lott-a love.

Taste of Home. Military personnel serving in Iraq no doubt are getting their share of holiday cards and greetings from back home, but one lucky group of Mississippians got an even tastier treat, courtesy of Rep. Gene Taylor. The Mississippi Democrat brought an unusual bit of cargo with him on a CODEL to the war zone last weekend, delivering 500 pounds of flash-frozen shrimp and 50 gallons of gumbo for a holiday feast for soldiers in the 1108th Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot unit, which hails from Gulfport, Miss., and is now stationed at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

Taylor got clearance from his military escorts on the trip to bring the goodies — the fixings for a down-home shrimp boil — with him, a Taylor staffer who attended the CODEL tells HOH. Bringing edible goods over there, in what Taylor staffers started referring to as “Operation Gumbo Drop,” wasn’t a simple matter either, since they had to be checked out and given the thumbs-up by the unit’s surgeon and veterinarian. The Mississippi unit sent a truck to where the CODEL landed in Kuwait to take the precious cargo back to base, and later the unit’s colonel drove back to thank the Congressman in person. “They were so psyched,” the staffer says of the guys and gals’ reaction to the surprise from back home.

Sadly, Taylor himself couldn’t stick around for the party, since he had to head back to Washington for votes. “It was all I could do to get him back on that plane,” the staffer says.

Department of Christmas Cheer. Talk about donning one’s gay apparel. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) was spotted on Tuesday in a getup even more festive than her usual workday attire. The sartorially adventurous Jackson Lee was seen heading to votes sporting a sequin-studded Santa hat and matching sequined red blazer.

While hats normally are banned on the House floor, HOH guesses that there’s a holiday-spirit-inspired loophole for blingy Santa chapeaus.

And the red-suited Congresswoman wasn’t the only one playing Santa. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who optimistically (and wrongly) predicted the House would adjourn last week, got in on the act. “My credibility is down the drain,” he told a group of reporters on Tuesday. “Ho, ho, ho.”

Charlie Wilson’s … Organs. Ladies’ man and former Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) may have missed the Motion Picture Association of America screening Monday night of the new movie based on his life, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” but he was there in spirit. MPAA President Dan Glickman remarked on Wilson’s absence, saying he had spoken to the former Congressman, who recently underwent heart transplant surgery, on the telephone earlier that day. In true Wilsonian fashion, Glickman said the Texan assured him that his heart was the only “organ” that was malfunctioning. Kate Ackley and Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.

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