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Heard on the Hill: Vitter Goes From Hookergate to Gate-Crashing

Among Members of Congress, there’s a long-standing, proud tradition of the Airport Freakout. Add to the list of those who’ve indulged in meltdowns and temper tantrums while traveling one Sen. David Vitter, who on Thursday joined what we’ve dubbed the “Mile-Low Club” by going ballistic on an airline worker after missing a flight from Washington’s Dulles airport to New Orleans.

According to an HOH tipster who witnessed the scene, the Louisiana Republican arrived Thursday evening at his United Airlines gate 20 minutes before the plane was scheduled to depart, only to find the gate had already been closed. Undeterred, Vitter opened the door, setting off a security alarm and prompting an airline worker to warn him that entering the gate was forbidden.

Vitter, our spy said, gave the airline worker an earful, employing the timeworn “do-you-know-who-I-am” tirade that apparently grew quite heated.

That led to some back and forth, and the worker announced to the irritable Vitter that he was going to summon security.

Vitter, according to the witness, remained defiant, yelling that the employee could call the police if he wanted to and their supervisors, who, presumably, might be more impressed with his Senator’s pin.

But after talking a huffy big game, Vitter apparently thought better of pushing the confrontation any further. When the gate attendant left to find a security guard, Vitter turned tail and simply fled the scene.

Perhaps he recalled some of the airport antics that have landed his colleagues in trouble, including Rep. Bob Filner’s (D-Calif.) arrest at Dulles in 2007 for allegedly assaulting an airline worker. Or perhaps he thought of the lashing that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) took for reports of her diva-esque airport behavior.

Vitter has only recently been reasserting himself in Congress, following a stint in the metaphorical wilderness after his name showed up in 2007 on the phone records of the “D.C. Madam.”

Or Vitter, whose spokesman wouldn’t comment on the incident, might have learned just a little something from his sex-scandal embarrassment about impulse control.

Thanks for Playing! It’s a little bit like those suburban developers who name streets in new subdivisions after the trees they ripped out.

The House on Monday named an Iowa courthouse building after former Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), who served in Congress for 15 terms. But here’s the kicker — the bill was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, the very guy who vanquished Leach in a squeak-by win in the 2006 elections.

Loebsack said the gesture of naming the federal courthouse building, located in Leach’s hometown of Davenport, is meant as a tribute of respect for his predecessor’s 30 years of service. “Jim’s legacy of bipartisan statesmanship, his leadership in foreign affairs, his dedication to public service, and his capable representation of his constituents left a lasting impact on the District I am now honored to represent,” Loebsack said in a statement.

As far as consolation prizes go, we’d say this one’s at least better than a toaster.

Out of the Spotlight. You would think a rock star wouldn’t be fazed about having his picture taken.

But Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in support of legislation requiring that radio stations pay artists when their music is played, apparently has been out of the spotlight long enough that it’s a novelty.

As a half-dozen or so shutterbugs gathered around Corgan before the hearing began, the singer appeared flustered, asking the assembled group whether he should pose as he would for the paparazzi.

Corgan noted that he rarely gets snapped anymore (the Pumpkins’ biggest hits were in the 1990s), relaying a story of how he was walking down a street in Los Angeles about a year ago when a paparazzo started photographing him. “It had been so long that I walked up to the guy and went, ‘Thank you, you made my day,’” Corgan joked.

While Corgan testified on artist performance rights, the music-focused hearing also brought about an odd debate between Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Dan Lungren (R-Calif.).

Memphis native Cohen referenced legendary singer Elvis Presley during his opening statement, noting that famed Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips was the first to play a Presley record.

But Lungren disputed who actually gave Presley his big break.

“I knew Dewey Phillips was important, but I though Ed Sullivan had something to do with it,” Lungren argued. “And Steve Allen.”

Easy, guys.

Silver Foxes. HOH smells a conspiracy here. We suspected that Senate leaders were just looking for a way to track down their Members ahead of votes when we saw a press release about legislation establishing a “Silver Alert” to be used to track down missing seniors.

Yes, we realize that the bill, sponsored by Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) is aimed at helping elderly people suffering from dementia, which is not funny at all.

But still, with the average age of a Senator hovering above 60, it would come in awfully handy for locating the laggards ...

Let’s just hope they print a copy of the bill in large type.

Tribute to a Friend. Members introduce plenty of bills each year to officially name a month in awareness of a particular cause or disease. Think “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” or “Lasagna Awareness Month.” (We did not make this up.)

But on Tuesday, Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) introduced such a bill in honor of a late friend, former Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.).

Under the measure, March officially would be “Deep-Vein Thrombosis Month,” and the second Tuesday of March will be DVT screening day. Dunn died in September 2007 from a pulmonary embolism resulting from DVT, a blood clot inside a deep vein.

Overheard on the Hill. “So I was the only woman member at the Armed Services Committee today but this might be too much.”

— Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), in a Twitter post on Tuesday afternoon. Pingree’s post linked to a photo of her official nameplate in the hearing room, which read, “Mr. Pingree.”

Dan Peake of GalleryWatch and Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.

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