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Been There, Done That, Got the T-shirt

Sen. John McCain has long been known for cozying up to reporters on Capitol Hill, and now it looks like reporters on the campaign trail are falling once again for the Arizona Republican’s charm offensive.

Reporters trailing McCain and taking rides on the Straight Talk Express apparently are feeling so much love that they’re printing up a batch of T-shirts to celebrate their favorite McCain-flavored inside jokes.

[IMGCAP(1)] Washington Editor Ana Marie Cox sent out an e-mail Tuesday soliciting input from fellow reporters for a McCain-themed T-shirt for the scribes traveling with the candidate. Scheduled to be ready by Super Tuesday, the T-shirts will be emblazoned with “McCain Traveling Press: The ______ Tour 2008” on the back.

Proposed phrases to fill in the blank include the “O’Reilly Twins Tour,” a reference to an Irish joke McCain frequently tells, and the “You Jerks Tour,” an homage to one of McCain’s favorite monikers for the press.

The shirts also will feature a list of the Fourth Estate’s top 10 McCain jokes.

Cox says she’s proud of the shirts and contends their creation is nothing out of the ordinary. “I’m not sure if it signifies that we’re cozy with the candidate,” Cox wrote in an e-mail to HOH. “It does, after all, explicitly mock his centuries-old, bad jokes … It signifies that we’re close-knit with each other —misery loves company, etc.”

HOH couldn’t help but notice that it wasn’t just political journos who were on the e-mail list (although there were plenty of those, including The New York Times’ John Broder and Elisabeth Bumiller and The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin). It also included two McCain staffers.

And another hint of collaboration (however innocent) between the campaign and the press covering it: The scribes are planning to order the shirts through McCain adviser Steve Duprey, who handles official campaign T-shirts.

American Idle. The five-bus caravan set to transport Democrats to their retreat in Williamsburg, Va., on Wednesday had some people fuming. The buses sat waiting outside the Longworth House Office Building for more than an hour with their diesel engines running, sources tell HOH.

GOP staffers gleefully noted to HOH that the gas-guzzling tour buses were surely kicking up plenty of fumes while waiting for members of the party that has made environmental friendliness its signature.

In fact, as the bus engines were reportedly purring, the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee was holding a hearing inside the Longworth Building on global warming.

One HOH operative, who isn’t among the GOP observers, said the buses were running as early as 7:45 a.m. and continued at least until 9 a.m. Another source pinned the total idling time at two and a half to three hours.

The buses took off a little after 10 a.m.

House Democratic Caucus spokesman Nick Papas disagreed with HOH’s spies, saying the buses did not run for the entire time they were waiting. And, Papas suggested that the staffers with their noses pressed to the glass might find something more productive to do. “With Congress out of session, it appears that some Republicans are quite bored,” he says.

Need a Compass, Congressman? Sure, he’s a freshman, but one would expect Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) would know his way around the halls of Congress by now. Apparently not, says an HOH spy who spotted the Congressman getting a little geography lesson on Tuesday. Welch was taking an escalator to the sub-basement of the Rayburn Building near the Capitol subway, our spy says. “Now you’re in Rayburn, as if you were walking from Longworth,” said a young guy who looked to be a Welch staffer. “Do you know how to get to the Capitol from here?”

Welch reportedly looked a bit befuddled and turned in a circle, looking in all directions. Our spy missed the end of the encounter, but suffice it to say that Welch didn’t exude much confidence in his own navigational prowess.

Fortunately for Welch, after winning a tough open-seat race in 2006, he isn’t facing any credible opposition for a second term.

So relax, Congressman. You’ll learn your way around soon enough.

Young Corrects His Pork Portion. Make no mistake about it, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) likes his earmarks (ever hear of a little thing called “the Bridge to Nowhere”?). But if you blast him for his pork-barrel penchant, at least get your numbers right.

Young sent a scathing letter to Citizens Against Government Waste last week after the group named him one of its candidates for the 2007 Porker of the Year campaign.

The watchdog group mistakenly gave Young credit for a $7.16 million earmark in the agriculture section of the omnibus bill that was actually secured by Florida Republican Rep. Bill Young. That made the watchdog group’s calculation of Don Young’s 2007 earmarks $17.1 million, off from the $10.3 million Young actually secured.

“This is hardly even a blip on the radar of a multi-billion dollar budget, especially when other Members have earmarked hundreds of millions,” wrote Young. The Alaska Republican then invited CAGW President Tom Schatz to travel to Alaska to see some of his earmarks in action.

Schatz sent Young a return letter this week apologizing for the miscalculation but placing the blame squarely on Young’s earmarking for his place on the list (the Alaskan has been named as a porker of the month in 2003, 2005 and 2007). Still, Schatz told HOH that Young’s letter was “far more respectful” than how other Members have reacted to being called out for earmarks.

Young’s Senate counterpart, Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, once called the group “a bunch of psychopaths,” according to The Associated Press.

Have Golden Ticket, Will Ride. Congress is often referred to as a sausage-making factory. A few security officers preparing for Monday’s State of the Union address, though, likened it to a producer of something a lot sweeter.

HOH overheard three earpiece-wearing guys in suits in intense conversation in the basement of the Capitol, where the subway to the Senate office buildings departs.

In what HOH can only imagine is some sort of top-secret code, the three kept referring, in deadpan tones, to the subway as the “Willy Wonka train.”

The nickname perhaps comes from the 1971 cult classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” which features the “Wonkamobile,” a soda-pop-fueled transport used to ferry people around inside Willy Wonka’s magic factory.

Now, does that make those of us who ride the train Oompa-Loompas?

Clayton Hanson of GalleryWatch, Jay Heflin of CongressNow and Daniel Heim contributed to this report.

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