Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Posted October 24, 2003 at 6:30pm

Twelve months have passed, but the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) is still sparking some bitter feelings between the two political parties.

There’s still that nasty controversy between Democrats and Republicans over whether the memorial service for the Senator, who perished in a plane crash one year ago this past weekend, degenerated into a full-fledged political rally.

And now Democrats are irate that Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) appears to be ducking Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) push to pass mental health parity legislation this month to honor Wellstone.

Daschle had sent a letter signed by the entire Democratic Caucus urging swift passage of the bill that has 66 co-sponsors: “We can think of no more fitting way to honor his memory than to pass this bipartisan bill.”

Given the deafening silence from Frist, Daschle delivered a tribute speech to Wellstone on Friday and asked unanimous consent to bring the bill up. There was no objection because the only Republican in the chamber was Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), who was busy in the president’s chair (and later confided to a colleague she’s one of the 66 co-sponsors and doesn’t want to stand in the bill’s way).

Suddenly a Democratic aide shoved a note in front of a peeved Daschle, who was seen shaking his head. It turns out that Frist — apparently not wanting to show his face objecting to the Wellstone tribute, according to Democrats — had scribbled out an objection and sent it into the chamber.

Adding insult to injury, the doctor later made his way to the Senate floor and praised Wellstone without agreeing to a date for a vote on mental health parity. But he then segued to seek an extension of the abolition on the so-called death tax — a move that flabbergasted Democrats.

“Nice bedside manner,” cracked one Democratic aide. “Those surgeons — they have no heart.”

Frist spokeswoman Amy Call said the Senator had a “very fully day” on Friday, which including meeting with the Medicare conferees and thus could not get to the floor — so he wasn’t ducking anyone.

“Senator Frist is supportive of the mental health parity bill,” she added, though he is not committing to a date certain. “I think at this point we want to see it go through the regular committee process.”

Rub-a-Dub in the Hot Tub? For one night only, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) is shedding his law-and-order Republican ways — and slipping on some polyester duds — to dance the night away with James Brown at a ’70s-style nightclub.

The Godfather of Soul, who’s had his share of legal problems over the years, will be headlining a Wednesday night fundraiser for Graham at Polly Esther’s in D.C.

“We’re trying to put the ‘fun’ back in fundraising,” the freshman Senator told HOH. “For $50 you can hear the Godfather of Soul and help elect another South Carolina Senator for the next 50 years.”

Brown, a South Carolina native, was a supporter of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) over the years and is carrying on that tradition with Graham. There is, however, no evidence that Brown will trot out a Jacuzzi.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a hot tub,” said a Graham aide. “But you never know with the Godfather of Soul. He does ‘Feel Good.’”

Scaring Up Campaign Cash. In an effort to revive his presidential campaign, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has sent out a fundraising pitch headlined, “What is REALLY Scaring Kids This Week?”

It turns out that it’s not ghosts and goblins, according to Edwards, “It’s that 12 MILLION of them DON’T HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE.”

That’s why the Senator is seeking $31 by Oct. 31 from each of his financial supporters in order to “make this Halloween scary for President Bush by raising $100,000” by the end of the week. (Since Bush raised about $50 million in the last quarter alone, he’s unlikely to be too frightened by that haul.)

Other lawmakers using Halloween to raise some campaign dough this week include Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s (R-Wis.) “Trick or Treat Breakfast” at Charlie Palmer Steak on Wednesday and Rep. Jerry Weller’s (R-Ill.) “Nightmare on 1st Street” event on Thursday.

Palm of Her Hand. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and hubby Frank Snellings celebrated their wedding anniversary last week with a quiet dinner at The Palm.

The duo passed on dessert, but the Senator’s staff had conspired to phone in (and pay for) an order for a slice of key lime pie with one candle for the happy couple.

Stroke of Genius. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) lit it up on the golf course earlier this month, firing a 74 while playing with international golf star Sergio Garcia in the pro-am portion of the Las Vegas Invitational.

Garcia, the 23-year-old Spaniard, still easily outpaced the Senator — shooting a 67 in their round.

Ensign, meanwhile, told HOH he was just as stunned as everyone else by his own low score. “I shot about 100 the day before,” he said.

Wilkinson Shall Return. Jim Wilkinson, the House staffer turned Iraq war spokesman turned mouthpiece for next year’s GOP convention, returned to Capitol Hill as a conquering hero on Friday.

The 33-year-old Texan was the speaker at a packed luncheon thrown by the Republican Communications Association, the respected group of GOP media spinners that was thrilled to have Wilkinson in its midst.

“For Hill press flacks, he is truly a war hero,” Pete Jeffries, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), told HOH.

In private, though, Republican communicators have been closely reading a New York Observer profile of Wilkinson that was not quite as flattering about his time as spokesman at the U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar.

“It was an unprofessional operation,” Peter Boyer of The New Yorker griped to the paper.

Boyer added, “If they run that [GOP] convention the way they ran the CentCom press operation, you might wish to acquaint yourself with the term ‘President Dean.’”

Jeffries defended Wilkinson by saying the staffer recalled at the luncheon that he “tried to help the media and yet manage the media cycle” at CentCom.

“It is a delicate balance,” Jeffries said. “You’re not going to be able to please all of the people all of the time.”

Dreams Deferred. Former President Bill Clinton’s appearance at a Northeast D.C. nightclub tonight may not turn out to be as dreamy as the Democratic National Committee hopes if some local voting rights activists get their way.

Members of Democracy First, which pushed to establish the District of Columbia’s Jan. 13 nonbinding Democratic presidential primary, plan to stage a protest outside the Dream nightclub. The group asserts DNC officials have discouraged presidential candidates from taking part in the District’s first-in the-nation- primary, which beats New Hampshire by a couple of weeks.

“Terry McAuliffe rightly should be humiliated that he is stepping on a disenfranchised [city],” said Democracy First’s Timothy Cooper.

In a flyer promoting the protest, organizers cited remarks the DNC chairman allegedly made to WTOP radio commentator Mark Plotkin: “We told every single [presidential] candidate not to come into this [D.C.] primary!” McAuliffe allegedly said. “And if you report it, I’ll deny it!”

But DNC spokesman Tony Welch said would-be protesters are riled up over a non-issue.

“The DNC has not been pressuring the candidates to stay away from Washington. It’s up to them,” Welch fired back.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.