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Roll Call

There Goes the Coalition of the Willing

Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) is probably going to want to pay a little bit closer attention the next time the National Republican Congressional Committee sends out a fundraising pitch under his signature.

It seems the NRCC has more than ruffled feathers among two important U.S. allies in the war on terror by rushing out an “Ask America 2004” policy survey to Republican campaign donors.

One question read: “Should America broaden the war on terrorism into

other countries that harbor and aid terrorists such as Thailand, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines etc?”

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, who has been praised by President Bush for her role in helping America and was feted at a State Dinner last May, expressed personal alarm at the charge.

Arroyo told the New Straits Times, a Malaysian newspaper, that she was asking her foreign office to demand an apology for the “unfair and baseless accusation” from the House GOP leadership.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow took the news a little better, telling the newspaper that the slur would not affect diplomatic relations with the United States because it was a mishap caused by political operatives — not the State Department or anything like that.

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti, who usually doesn’t dip his toes into international diplomacy, acknowledged that the survey questions “should probably have been vetted better” than they were.

But Greg Speed, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told HOH that he’s worried about how this latest development will affect all of the menus in Thai restaurants located in the United States.

“House Republicans’ foreign policy is apparently getting even more reckless — they’ve gone from renaming french fries ‘freedom fries’ to naming Thailand and the Philippines ‘terrorist countries,’” cracked Speed. “I guess soon we’ll have to call our Thai food ‘pad liberty.’”

Making a little light out of mishaps that the NRCC has had over another donor program, Forti teased back, “To make matters right, we’re going to name representatives of both countries ‘Businessman of the Year.’”

Going to the Dogs. Lt. R. Clarke Cooper, a former Hill staffer now serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army, has found a way to stay plugged into Capitol Hill during his time serving our nation.

Friends like Bailey Wood, former spokesman for Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.), send Cooper copies of Roll Call.

“I get it shipped with dog food every once in a while,” Cooper revealed in a telephone interview from Iraq last week. “There are two things I can’t get in Baghdad — Iams and Roll Call.”

The dog food isn’t for Cooper, who says the military is treating him just fine. The chow is for the Babylonian collie that keeps him company.

Cooper said he likes to read The Newspaper of Capitol Hill because it “keeps me plugged in” on friends whom he served with as well as lawmakers like his former boss, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Prior to his deployment to Iraq, Cooper has been serving as the assistant director of Congressional affairs for the National Park Service.

Now that he’s reading about Congress in the war zone, he noted, some of the political machinations seem a bit “silly” to read about.

Cooper said that he wanted to send a message to Ros-Lehtinen and her husband, Dexter, who won a Purple Heart as an Army Ranger in Vietnam.

“They are probably the main reason I’m in the Army Reserves,” he said. “I want to tell them ‘thank you very much’ — they helped lay a great foundation for what I’m doing right now.”

Then Cooper had to end the interview. “We’re going back to convoy ops,” he said.

Duty calls.

Life in Neverland. On April Fool’s Day, it was hard to separate the real press releases from the fake ones being churned out by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.).

First there was the one HOH received asserting that Cox had breakfast that morning with pop star Michael Jackson and that the two had forged a “groundbreaking agreement on a new bill to curb indecency on the public airwaves.”

That was followed shortly thereafter by a press release claiming that the cautious Cox had hired hard-charging GOP aide Ken Johnson to serve as a senior adviser.

Johnson himself admitted to HOH, “I was afraid people wouldn’t know which one was the April Fool’s press release.”

It turns out that Johnson, known for getting just about as much press attention for himself as for his former boss, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), really is joining Cox’s staff.

“I’m convinced that my stately, laid-back, low-key style will mesh perfectly with Chairman Cox’s,” cracked Johnson. “It’s my job to tone down his act a little bit.”

He got off to a bit of a shaky start — and sparked plenty of private back-biting among Johnson’s colleagues — when the press release on his job change lasted two full pages.

It included such gems as the fact that the longtime spokesman “played a key role in the passage” of five major pieces of legislation, and “won more than 50 local, state and national awards for journalistic excellence” during his time as a TV reporter in Louisiana.

“Everything is historically accurate, but I absolutely, positively did not write it,” insisted Johnson.

All of that was almost as shocking as Cox’s fake press release about how the Congressman had gotten a call from the gloved-one himself asking for a meeting: “At first I thought it was Mike Tyson, or maybe Bob Novak disguising his voice, having a little fun with me.”

But there were some dead giveaways, such as Cox saying, “You could tell he was paying attention. He asked me to spell ‘rebarbative.’”

Or there was Cox insisting that Jackson had agreed to market the new legislation with this slogan: “Indecency: Beat It!”

It’s Hard to Say Good-Bye. Before turning the reins over to take a new job, HOH will be doing a retrospective on the past seven years in next Monday’s farewell column.

After seven years of having fun at other people’s expense, it’s time for HOH to get shoved under the microscope: What have been the highlights and lowlights?

One reader has already suggested there should be a list of the Top Ten items submitted by readers, as well as a Top Ten from yours truly. Of course, there could also be the Ten Worst.

Please don’t hold back. Any and all suggestions will be considered for inclusion in the final column. Send your ideas to eh@rollcall.com.

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