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Heard on the Hill: The Silent Senator

After weeks of being a publicity magnet with a pack of photographers permanently attached to his hip, Sen. Roland Burris is attempting to fly way under the radar. But his efforts to go incognito only seem to be garnering the scandal-battered Illinois Democrat even more attention.

Hill-watchers have noticed that Burris, weeks into his new job, has strangely little to say at many hearings that he attends: At an Armed Services Committee meeting last week on acquisition reform, Burris had no questions for the witnesses (even though Chicago-based Boeing Co. is keenly interested in the topic). “Mr. Chairman. I would rather listen than to talk,” he said. “I yield my time.”

Lips-sealed performances aside, others have noticed the newest Senator sometimes seems a tad confused. At a subcommittee hearing last week on the census, Burris used his opening statement to talk about an unrelated topic — the stimulus package. The incongruity left some in the audience scratching their heads, although Burris did eventually ask census-related questions.

His befuddled performance was little improvement from a month ago, when he sat on the GOP side of the dais at an Armed Services meeting, oblivious to the fact that he was sitting to the right of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“He seems lost, but it’s because he just doesn’t have anyone helping him out,” one Senate staffer said, noting few Senators want to befriend their controversial colleague.

Burris spokesman Jim O’Connor would only say that his boss is just keeping his nose to the grindstone. “He’s busy at work — voting and meeting with constituents,” he said.

Coble’s a Double Threat. Rep. Howard Coble isn’t getting stage fright — even though the North Carolina Republican, who is set to tread the proverbial boards for Arena Stage’s annual benefit performance on Monday night, hasn’t yet seen a script or even knows what part he’s going to play in the local-star-studded adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Spokesman Ed McDonald said his boss has been there, done that, having taken part in the same fundraiser a few years back and had a good time. “And they’ll give him the script when he gets there — I don’t think it’s that long,” he told HOH.

Coble, who’s a theater supporter, if not a big stage buff, also has a not-so-secret weapon that’s all but guaranteed to charm the audience. Unlike his co-stars, who will include D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), several members of the D.C. City Council and NBC 4 sports anchor Lindsay Czarniak, Coble’s “got that Southern accent, so he’ll at least stand out,” McDonald said.

Rimes With Psoriasis. Will they just install a red carpet outside the Capitol already? Wednesday marked yet another celeb-packed day on Capitol Hill.

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