Propped Up

Posted November 26, 2003 at 2:27pm

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is fond of using surgical analogies to describe his tenure of leading the chamber, much in the same way that ex-jocks like Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) constantly fall back on football or other sporting references when talking politics.

But last Tuesday emerged as a banner day for both doctor- and football-tinged metaphors and props. First, the majority leader convened a pen-and-pad briefing for reporters in his conference room (no cameras), designed as a chance for Frist to spell out his successes in his first year as leader.

Just as he sat down with reporters, a top aide placed a stethoscope on the table next to the former heart surgeon, in addition to a huge chart and handouts listing what the GOP considers its top achievements of the year. Alas, it never became clear to reporters why the stethoscope was there, since Frist failed to even pick it up.

Perhaps it was just there to serve as another reminder to the scribes of Frist’s previous career — in case they missed the picture of Frist in scrubs in the front office or weren’t paying attention to any of the handful of surgical references he made during the session.

But the stethoscope was nothing compared to the pigskin session that followed with top members of the Senate GOP leadership. With a backdrop filled with images of dozens of little footballs and a “Moving America Forward” slogan, Frist went on to lead a press conference that used nothing but football metaphors to describe the first session.

Frist was dubbed the “player/coach” of the team, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the “running back” and GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) the “receiver.” Of course, McConnell recognized the lack of true athletic ability of the leadership team when he introduced Allen, the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s chairman. McConnell noted that Allen was “the only real ballplayer we have,” referring to Allen’s days as a quarterback for the University of Virginia.

To prove he still had it, Allen directed Santorum to run a five-yard curl pattern in the Mansfield Room and threw a strike, which Santorum (thankfully) caught.

Santorum then let the assembled crowd in on a secret: Frist stinks at football. When he recalled a pick-up game that Senate Republicans played on their retreat in February in Carlisle, Pa., home of football/Olympian legend Jim Thorpe, Santorum praised Allen’s two touchdown passes.

“What about me, what about me?” Frist asked.

Grimacing as he recalled the game, Santorum said of his omission of Frist’s play: “I just thought I’d highlight the highlights.”

Memo to the Majority Leader: Sometimes props bite back.

Not-So-Brave Heart. Behind cable mogul Ted Turner, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) may have been the second most wealthy fan of the Atlanta Braves for the past few decades. Not any more.

“I’m giving up baseball,” the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee confessed to HOH last week. Why? “Because of my team.”

Rockefeller, whose West Virginia home provides no natural baseball team to pull for, has been a longtime passionate fan of the Braves, to the point of asking Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to get him trinkets or autographs from star Braves pitcher Greg Maddux, a Las Vegas native and close friend of Reid’s.

But the Braves have provided some awfully painful moments for their fans since 1991, the year they began their current streak of 12 straight division titles, a streak unmatched in all of U.S. team sports. However, they’ve won just one World Series in that period and have flamed out in the early rounds of the playoffs four straight years, having last reached the series in 1999, when they were swept by the New York Yankees.

Rockefeller says he’s tired of it all and won’t watch next year. Of course, asked if he’s going to feel the same way on Opening Day next spring, when hope springs eternal for all baseball fans (even those from Boston and Chicago), Rockefeller couldn’t promise HOH that his Braves ban would still be in effect. “You’ll have to write that at your own risk,” he said.

Last Call. HOH bids a fond farewell to top political strategist Jeff Forbes, who for the past year has been Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) director of the minority staff on the Finance Committee. In 2001 and 2002, Forbes was chief of staff to Baucus, engineering the Montana Democrat’s crushing re-election victory over beautician-turned-state Sen. Mike Taylor (R).

An expert field operative, Forbes spent the last year of his work on the Hill in the nuts and bolts of policy — in addition to inspiring overweight staffers on both sides of the aisle to go on a diet. Forbes has shed 70 pounds in the past year — a leaner, meaner fighting force on behalf of centrist Democrats everywhere.

With the passage of the Medicare plan last Tuesday, Forbes has officially ended his Senate tenure and becomes a partner in a small lobbying firm, Cauthen, Forbes and Williamson.

Judging from the looks of Baucus these days, the Senator could have used Forbes as backup in a fight with fellow Democratic Caucus members (almost 75 percent of whom rejected the compromise measure Baucus helped craft). At least that’s the recurring joke Baucus is telling these days.

The ranking member of Finance is sporting a vicious cut and shiner over his right eye, the result of a nasty spill he took in the early portion of an ultra-marathon in Maryland on Nov. 22, a 50-mile race held as the Senate spent all weekend debating Medicare. Amazingly, Baucus finished the race, bloodied and all.

“This guy’s tough,” Frist, himself a veteran of “normal” 26.2-mile marathons, said at a press conference after final passage, “50 miles, 50 miles.”

“That wasn’t there,” Baucus interjected, joking the beating he took occurred from his fellow Democrats. “That was in our Caucus.”

Ill Communication. A South Dakota judge sentenced a Wyoming man to 60 days in jail for making threatening remarks about Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in a phone call to the Spearfish (S.D.) Police Department.

According to the Lawrence County State’s Attorney’s Office, Raymond Howard, 59, told the Spearfish Police Department’s 911 dispatcher in a March phone call: “We’re gonna kill Senator Daschle today.” The Senator had been scheduled to appear in Spearfish that afternoon.

Spearfish police tracked the location of the pay phone used to make the call. “Police officers were immediately sent to the location, and because of a recent snow were able to track the footprints back to Howard’s vehicle, and eventually to Howard,” a statement from the state attorney’s office reads.

In a mid-October trial, a Lawrence County jury found Howard guilty of “threatening a constitutional officer.”

Judge Warren Johnson issued Howard a two-year suspended sentence on Nov. 20, requiring him to spend 60 days in Lawrence County Jail, serve three years of probation and undergo a psychological evaluation. Johnson also ordered Howard not to contact the South Dakota Senator or his staff.

Spirit of the Season. Library of Congress police officer Orlander Bell Jr. established a record when he recently made a $10,013 to the LOC’s Combined Federal Campaign.

“The theme that they had this year, ‘It All Comes Back To You,’ just seems to stand out,” Bell said.

CFC of the National Capital Area collects funds from federal employees and donates them to a variety of charities.

Beacher Wiggins, the Library’s CFC co-chairman, acknowledged that the donation, the largest by an individual in recent memory, surprised organizers.

“I didn’t expect to have an individual step forward and make such a selfless donation,” he said. The Library’s CFC campaign is seeking to raise $500,000 this year.

Bell, 38, noted that the donation is intended to honor both his mother, Edith, and his younger brother, Herbert “Buddy” Bell, who died from heart disease in 2001. The donation included an additional $13, Bell explained, to mark the date of his brother’s death, July 13.

“I just wanted to help the [charities] I know he was actively involved with,” Bell said of his decision to donate funds to Heart to Heart, Gifts in Kind, Inc., A Child’s Hope Fund and the Animal Charities of America.

Bell had originally intended to use his funds for a business venture, but said he changed his mind: “I’ve always had little ideas and little things I wanted to do, but with the money sitting there I figured I’ll help people now.”