Frist Responder

Posted March 18, 2003 at 6:40pm

Mere hours after getting an injection of the smallpox vaccine on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was spotted in swank Aspen, Colo., getting ready to hit the slopes for some weekend skiing.

The Frist family chowed down Friday night at Butch’s Lobster Bar, a popular watering hole and restaurant that flies fresh seafood into the Rocky Mountains from New England every day.

Butch Darden, the owner of the eatery in the Snowmass Village section of

Aspen, told HOH that Frist (who’s a regular when he’s in town) seemed to be in fine spirits — despite the fact that some people wind up with ill effects after getting the vaccine.

“He was his normal cheerful self,” said Darden. “He wasn’t here for long, but he said that he enjoyed it.”

The owner said he did not know what Dr. Frist, who’s known for his physical fitness, ordered for dinner. “I’m not sure lobster is that healthy with all that butter,” Darden noted.

Frist received the vaccine on Friday so that he could serve as a first responder if there is a biological attack on Capitol Hill (though it seems more logical that the Majority Leader would need to be taken to a secure place in the event of an emergency).

In any event, a couple of vacationing Democrats who spotted Frist in Colorado were impressed by his ability to rebound quickly by heading “two miles above sea level” so soon after getting the vaccine.

“We were just glad there was a first responder on the slopes for the double dips,” joked one of the eyewitnesses.

Darden, meanwhile, sounds like he’s mulling opening a “Frist for President” chapter in the Rockies.

“I do think he’s a pretty good guy,” he told HOH. “I think he might be the next Republican president. I think he would make a good president. I would vote for him — you bet.”

Party at Feinstein’s. While the impending war in Iraq is wreaking havoc on Washington’s social calendar, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) went ahead with a Monday-night cocktail reception for a recently married colleague.

Feinstein threw the bash at her Kalorama home for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Tom Athans, the executive director of the liberal Democracy Radio network, who were married in February.

Feinstein said the possibility of war did put a slight damper on the party, but noted that it was too difficult to reschedule the event.

The party ran from 6 to 8 p.m., which is when President Bush delivered an international address giving dictator Saddam Hussein a 48-hour ultimatum to leave Iraq.

“We listened to the president,” said Feinstein, who relayed that everyone is so busy right now that not all of her guests could stay for the commander in chief’s remarks.

Moran on Hold. Bush’s speech also shelved Rep. Jim Moran’s (D-Va.) plan to appear on CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Monday night to discuss the controversy that has imperiled the lawmaker’s career.

“Given the president’s speech as well as a possible war with Iraq coming upon us soon, [CNN] called us and said, ‘We’ve got to cancel,’” Dan Drummond, Moran’s chief of staff, told HOH.

Drummond added that the network has not rescheduled the interview yet. “That subject will be broached at a later date,” he said.

Some Moran allies may feel that the controversy is quieting down over the Congressman’s comments suggesting that Jewish-Americans could stop a war in Iraq, so rescheduling the interview may not be a priority.

But there’s another school of thought suggesting that Moran needs to do a national interview to try to save his job. And dealing with the softball questions from King might be the best place to do it.

Drummond declined to reveal Moran’s thinking on the matter. “The Congressman was certainly looking forward to going on ‘Larry King Live,’” he said. “But he understands that other news of the day took precedence.”

Lotta Turbulence. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has gotten off to a little bit of a shaky start in his new role as chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s subcommittee that oversees the aviation industry.

During a hearing last week on a federal effort to subsidize airline service in rural areas — an issue close to the Mississippian’s heart — the ousted Majority Leader made it only a few moments before stumbling.

After gaveling the hearing to a start, Lott skipped opening statements and moved directly to his first witness, identified as “Mr. Van de Water” by the name plate sitting on the witness table.

One small problem: Read Van de Water, an assistant secretary at the Department of Transportation, is a she.

“I would like to point out for the record that I am not Mr. Van de Water,” Ms. Van de Water said at the top of her testimony.

A bemused Lott shot a look to a pair of aides sitting behind him to make sure that he had not referred to Van de Water as “Mister” earlier.

“I didn’t say that, did I?” Lott asked his witness.

When Van de Water lifted her nameplate, Lott understood and signaled to a staffer to correct the mistake.

As the Lott aide scurried into the committee’s cloakroom, an amused Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) cracked, “We’re on television too — we’ll have to fix that.”

Moments later, a committee staffer replaced the nameplate with the appropriate title.

Brody Mullins and Emily Pierce contributed to this report.