Sitting in a Tree

Posted June 9, 2004 at 6:29pm

Sorry, guys. The newest, most eligible bachelorette in Congress appears to be off the market.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D), who just won the special South Dakota election, had a boyfriend waiting for her on Capitol Hill when she arrived last week. [IMGCAP(1)]

He’s Democratic Rep. Max Sandlin, a four-term Texan.

The couple met during Herseth’s failed 2002 election bid against then-Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.), who recently was released from prison for his second-degree manslaughter conviction. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has its own version of a “big buddy” program, appointed Sandlin to be Herseth’s mentor during that campaign.

Maybe the DCCC should have a match-making business on the side?

“Representative Herseth and Representative Sandlin met during the last election cycle. They remained friends after the 2002 election and have had a relationship for approximately a year,” her spokesman, Russ Levsen, told HOH.

Sandlin, who is divorced with four children, also worked hard to campaign and raise money for his girlfriend during her winning campaign against GOP state Sen. Larry Diedrich in the June 1 special election.

He said having just arrived in Washington, the new Congresswoman has not found permanent housing yet. For now, he said, she’s staying at the Capitol Suites.

But Herseth, 33, and Sandlin, 52, were seen Wednesday morning in front of Sandlin’s apartment building near D and First streets Southeast.

Rehberg, Horsing Around? A mystery e-mail making rounds in Montana political circles claims that a Republican delegation trip involving the state’s Members of Congress to Kazakhstan last month devolved into utter drunken debauchery.

The subject of the e-mail, which was sent anonymously to reporters and Democratic operatives, read: “Anonymous tip about Burns and Rehberg’s Kazakhstan visit Antics.”

The sender, who implied he or she was connected to the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan, wrote that that the visiting delegation, which included Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), “embarrassed the Embassy and the UNITED STATES with their antics.

“Every single one of them was drunk the entire time. Congressman Dennis Rehburg [sic], Rep, Montana, who had drank [sic], according to witnesses, some 20 shots of vodka, ran into the woods, returned on a horse, fell over (stumbling drunk) and was trampled by another horse.”

The mysterious missive continued: “He also made fun of the Kazakh national costume doing a ‘Coneheads’ routine from Saturday Night Live, over and over (including making beeping sounds like an alien) at an official delegation.”

HOH was not able to verify the origin of the e-mail. But we did verify that very much of what was said in the e-mail did happen, in some way, shape or form.

Rehberg and Burns confirmed they did go on the CODEL to Kazakhstan. Rehberg was trampled by a horse. He broke one rib and bruised several others. And they did drink. But not as much as the anonymous e-mail claimed.

“If I had 20 shots of anything I’d be dead!” Rehberg declared in an interview with HOH, adding that he doesn’t normally drink hard liquor.

Rehberg says he only had “three, four, something like that” shots of vodka with dignitaries of Kazakhstan at a ceremonial dinner in the mountains. “It wasn’t like it was an all-day event,” he said.

But he says he was not drunk when he fell off the horse and was trampled by another. It’s just that as a rancher from Montana, he’s not used to riding the style they ride in Kazakhstan. The official from Kazakhstan riding a horse next to him tried to help Rehberg off his horse, but when he did, the Congressman says, “he grabbed the reigns [sic] and I wasn’t comfortable so I fell back and sat down.”

He insists he wasn’t drunk. “And I didn’t fall,” he corrected. The other horse got startled and stepped on Rehberg, which kept him in the former Soviet republic a few extra days to recuperate from the rib injuries.

Burns released a statement saying, “I think it’s political garbage. We had a couple of ceremonial toasts, just like any state dinner, and that’s it. Someone’s fishin’ for dirt and they’re not going to find it here. We had a terrific trip, met wonderful people, and built some real lines of communication between our country and theirs.”

As for the accusations that he was comparing the ceremonial dinner to a “Saturday Night Live” Coneheads sketch, Rehberg said they had to wear something that “looked like a bathrobe, and a hat I cannot describe.” But that’s the nature of CODELs to far-away lands, he said.

Montana Republicans who spoke on the condition of anonymity charge the story of drunken debauchery was pushed by aides to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) who is still recuperating from heart surgery.

“He’s hearing footsteps by Denny Rehberg,” said one GOP operative in Montana. He cited a December poll conducted by the Helena Independent Record that showed Rehberg with a job approval rating of 67 percent, compared to 54 percent for Baucus.

Rehberg has been widely mentioned in GOP circles as a potential successor to Burns when he retires — or maybe as a challenger to Baucus.

Air Fletcher. Well, looks like he missed the place. Sources confirmed late Tuesday that a private plane transporting Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher to the service honoring the late President Ronald Reagan had flown into restricted air space, causing a pell-mell evacuation of the Capitol just hours before the ceremony was set to begin.

Fletcher’s plane was not recognized by aviation officials when it flew too close to Capitol Hill, which led to the full-scale flight from the Capitol, evoking for many participants memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, Capitol police began evacuating the campus with police inside and outside the Capitol screaming at staff and guests on hand for the Reagan service “get the [expletive] out, there’s a plane, two minutes.”

Terence Samuel, a reporter with U.S. News & World Report, said he was in the Senate Periodical Gallery on the phone interviewing Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.) when he heard people screaming, “Get out!” and saw everyone running past. He said Matsui told him, “I hear sirens.” And the two hung up.

“And then I heard a photographer yelling, ‘This is not a joke!’

“I was running really fast. People’s shoes were falling off,” Samuel said. When he got outside, he heard a cop yelling, “There’s an inbound aircraft. Everybody move to the Northeast and if you see someone who can’t move, please help them.”

Some staffers were seen crying into cellphones, and Congressional leaders were instantly whisked away to safety.

The irony of the moment is that Fletcher is better equipped than most governors to know the strict security rules that have governed the Capitol since Sept. 11, 2001. He held the 6th district seat in Kentucky from 1998 to 2003 when he resigned after winning the governorship.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.