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Pay Attention

What a scene on the House floor last Thursday, with one Member of Congress trying to buy off another.

Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), the former chairman of the House ethics committee, was a bit perplexed when he reached the podium to address his colleagues on lobbying reform and discovered that someone had left a $5 bill there.

Gasp! Graft? Bribery? Right here on the floor of the people’s house?

Hefley didn’t know what to do with the offending fin.

“Mr. Speaker, I don’t know who left me the five dollars up here to buy my vote. I am not sure here.”

Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the quick-witted chairman of the Rules Committee who was managing the floor battle for Republicans on the lobbying disclosure rule, had some advice for his esteemed colleague: “My recommendation is that you not touch it.”

Hefley thought that sage advice. “I will keep my hands up here where you can see them,” he said with a smile.

As it turns out, the five spot had nothing to do with buying his vote, or buying him a room at the Watergate. It was only a prop left behind by Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), who addressed the House before Hefley. Snyder was mad because Republicans wouldn’t allow debate on an amendment that would have prohibited lobbyists from buying meals for Members.

He held up the money as if to say, “Hey, folks, if you’re down on your luck and hard up for cash, here’s five smackers for a sandwich.” (Obviously not on K Street.)

No word on whether Snyder got his money back, which HOH thinks he may need as his wife, the Rev. Betsy Singleton, is very, very pregnant and due to have a baby any day.

Toga! Toga! Toga! As Dean Vernon Wormer told Bluto,“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” That’s pretty much what Democrats are saying to Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), though secretly they hope he continues crashing college frat parties so they can keep drawing “Animal House” analogies.

Photos of a sloshed-looking Sweeney at the frat party he crashed April 22 at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., were seemingly everywhere on Thursday and Friday. And while Democratic political operatives made much ado of Sweeney’s allegedly undistinguished behavior potentially hurting his re-election chances, their GOP counterparts rolled their eyes.

“Everybody knows John Sweeney likes to party, it’s not a secret,” one House GOP political aide told HOH. “Who cares?” The aide predicted the incident would have zero impact on Sweeney’s campaign.

However, Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the incident could hurt Sweeney in November. “Someone needs to tell John Sweeney that when New Yorkers are talking about ‘pain at the pump,’ they’re not talking about keg fatigue. After being hazed for nearly eight years by Sweeney’s representation, I’m confident that New Yorkers are going to be pledging for change this November,” he said.

Sweeney, though, says he wasn’t drunk and wasn’t even drinking at the frat party. He gives a very different account than the ones written about in the Albany Times Union’s blog and the Union College school newspapers, which suggested Sweeney was hammered when he crashed the Delta Phi party. The newspapers’ Web sites also included photos of Sweeney with students at the bash looking, well, half in the bag.

“You weren’t there, that’s speculation,” Sweeney’s spokeswoman, Melissa Carlson, told HOH. True. And she pointed out that Sweeney “isn’t supposed to be drinking” because he’s on medication trying to recover from a recent three-week-long hospitalization for a condition doctors believe to be vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels in the brain.

“He wasn’t drinking,” she said, adding, “What’s wrong with him stopping by and talking to college kids?”

Sweeney attended the wake of an old friend that day, then went to Geppettos, an Italian restaurant across the street from the Union College campus owned by the Congressman’s longtime buddy Paul Lichorat.

Lichorat told HOH that Sweeney ate a stromboli and drank only “a half a glass of wine.” Then the Congressman pointed across the street and asked, “Hey, Pauly, what’s going on over there?”

“I said, ‘a fraternity party.’ So we went over,” Lichorat said.

Lichorat says Sweeney was “absolutely not” inebriated and he “wasn’t slurring his words,” as some news accounts suggested. “I’ve been in this business 25 years, I know what a drunk person looks like,” he said.

While his friends and aides acknowledge that it wasn’t the brightest idea for him to drop by a late-night frat party, they say the Congressman did nothing inappropriate.

Sweeney joked about it on Friday while receiving an award from the College of St. Rose, another school near his district. Carlson said Sweeney told a local reporter, “Had I known that going to a fraternity party was going to get this much attention, I would have done it sooner.”

Where’s the Love? These days Republicans can’t hide their fear when they bump into the man who is out to dethrone them in November.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the feisty (some say vicious) chairman of the DCCC, was exiting the Longworth House Office Building on Thursday when he ran into Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).

“Rahm, what’ve you come up with to screw us with today?” Simpson only half-jokingly asked Emanuel, according to one of HOH’s many spies.

After some manly banter back and forth, which our informant didn’t quite hear as he didn’t want to appear to be eavesdropping too closely, the two lawmakers departed, expressing deep affection for one another, or so it appeared.

But as he was walked out the door toward the Capitol, Emanuel turned to a companion and said, “See? I told you they hate me.”

Condolences ... To the family of Julia Thorne, ex-wife of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who died Friday of cancer. She was 61. Thorne was the mother of Kerry’s two daughters, Vanessa Kerry, a medical student at Harvard, and Alex Kerry, a writer and filmmaker in New York. In a statement, Sen. Kerry, who remained friendly with Thorne after their divorce in 1988, said, “Julia was the best mother two daughters could ask for. She always put our kids ahead of everything. She was completely committed to them and their future. Julia fought a hugely courageous fight against cancer and she passed away with the same grace with which she lived. Everyone who knew her will miss her beyond words.”

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.

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