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Heard on the Hill: The New ‘It’ Bag

Move over, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s handbag. There’s a new Senatorial accessory, and his name is Dakota.

[IMGCAP(1)]An HOH tipster on Monday noticed a staffer for Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) standing in the spot usually occupied by an aide to the purse-delegating Texas Republican. The Conrad staffer was holding Dakota, Conrad’s beloved bichon frisé, while his master (the dog’s, not the staffer’s) went into the Senate chamber to vote.

The spy tells HOH that Conrad took questions from reporters while holding Dakota, then handed him off to his aide (who took the position to the left of the chamber doors where Hutchison’s purse-sherpa often stands) before heading onto the Senate floor.

Conrad spokesman Sean Neary says “dog-sitter— is not an official part of staffers’ duties. “It is the Senator’s dog, and the Senator cares for him,— he says.

Since dogs are forbidden in the chamber, Conrad usually asks a staffer to hold the pup momentarily while he runs in to cast his yea or nay, Neary says.

White House Party Foul. Reporters might have harangued their way out of a chance to mingle over eggnog with their White House sources.

HOH hears that they demanded so many invites to the two holiday parties the White House is throwing for the press that staffers in the West Wing’s press, communications and speech-writing shops have given up their own tickets to the party to satisfy the ticket-happy scribes.

Reporters hounded staffers with Facebook messages, e-mails and phone calls seeking invites to the two soirees. Some would-be partiers were polite, but others “made angry demands,— our tipster says.

Overwhelmed, staffers decided to give up the festivities themselves (some will still attend as staff, but won’t get “guest— status that would allow them to bring dates and get pictures with the president). Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is still likely to attend the events, each of which have invite lists of 225 people (a number that could rise to keep up with the clamor, we hear).

Reporters who actually cover the White House note that most of the coveted tickets are being eaten up by their “big bosses— — high-level producers and editors, many of whom work in New York — meaning that the party will likely be filled by people who usually don’t even set foot inside the press room.

Sadly for those left out of the receiving line, HOH is guessing party-crashing isn’t an option this year.

Slugging Along. No fancy chauffeured Town Car or even a staff-driven sedan for Rep. Rob Wittman. Last week, the Virginia Republican slugged his way to the office.

For those readers unaware of the phenomenon, “slugging— essentially is an organized way for worker bees who live out in the suburbs (or exurbs) to hitch a free ride into Washington. In fact, thousands of commuters do it each day.

Would-be riders head to a commuter lot, where drivers offer seats to folks headed in the same direction. Riders get a free ride into the city and drivers get to use the HOV lane, bypassing traffic. Everybody wins!

Wittman, who is in the midst of a listening tour on transportation issues affecting his district, wanted to experience slugging firsthand, spokesman Tom Crosson told HOH. The Congressman isn’t a stranger to commuting: On most days, he drives 90 minutes from his home in Westmoreland County, Va., to Capitol Hill and back, Crosson said.

But slugging was a first. On Wednesday, Wittman served as slugging driver, arriving at the lot at about 6:30 a.m. to offer riders a free trip to the Capitol. Nobody was heading there, so he picked up folks traveling to the Pentagon, Wittman’s local newspaper, the Free Lance-Star, reported.

During the ride, Wittman chatted with his fellow riders about everything from transportation issues to family life, the paper said. He dropped them off and drove to Capitol Hill.

Wittman left work at 9:30 p.m. and drove home, this time without slugging companions.

And You Are …? Chalk it up to over-cautiousness in the wake of the state dinner gate-crashers, but that really was Tom Brokaw cooling his heels at the northwest gate of the White House on Monday afternoon.

The legendary former NBC anchor had to wait for about half an hour, a tipster tells us, while guards asked him if he was a “member of the press.—

Uh … a member of the press? The guy’s practically a dean.

To be fair, our tipster noted that many of the Secret Service guards are “in their early 20s— — not exactly Brokaw’s “greatest generation— demographic.

Starry Night. Hollywood A-listers and White House officials weren’t the only ones who attended the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday night.

Several Members of Congress were in the audience for the big event, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.).

HOH hears Rep. Doris Matsui sat behind actress Anne Hathaway during the star-studded show. The California Democrat also mingled with actress Meryl Streep and “Daily Show— host Jon Stewart, spokeswoman Mara Lee told HOH.

Matsui, who has attended the annual event for several years, called this year’s ceremony among her favorites, Lee said. Matsui had a great view of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama from her seat, and said the couple was “really engaged, clapping and smiling— throughout the ceremony, Lee said.

Honoree Bruce Springsteen’s time on stage was among the highlights of the night for Matsui, who described the singer’s performance as “like a concert, that was the level of energy,— Lee said.

Who knew Matsui was such a fan of the Boss?

Keith Koffler contributed to this report.

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