Murky Employment Report

Posted November 24, 2004 at 3:17pm

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was busy providing the pre-turkey buzz on Capitol Hill, much to the chagrin of her staff. On the Friday before the Senate closed out the appropriations season, and just as the holiday season kicked off, the Alaska Republican asked each and every one of her staffers for a favor: Please resign.

That’s right. From the staffers who worked tirelessly during the past two years to help get the Senator re-elected, Murkowski demanded letters of resignation. [IMGCAP(1)]

Chuck Kleeschulte, Murkowski’s communications director, explained that the Senator is in the midst of a major reorganization of her office. When she was appointed to her seat by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), Lisa Murkowski inherited her father’s former Senate aides, Kleeschulte said.

Now, having won a full term in her own right, Murkowski wants to shake things up and take a long look at who can best serve in which positions.

Most staffers have nothing to worry about, Kleeschulte insisted, because a majority of current aides will be offered jobs in the next Congress, although some of them may be in different spots — and some may be sent to Alaska, where the Senator wants to beef up her constituent services.

“Most of the people here will be back,” he assured.

Kleeschulte said the Senator expects to make the vast majority of her staff decisions by mid-December. “It’s a little less heartless than waiting ‘til January,” he said.

Still, wasn’t it cold-hearted asking everyone in the office to submit a resignation letter? Kleeschulte analogized the situation to a Cabinet shakeup in a second-term presidency. “That’s not terribly surprising and not terribly unusual in the U.S. Senate,” he said, adding, “It’s rather normal around here. It’s certainly normal with presidents.” Every person HOH spoke to on Capitol Hill, however, expressed shock at the turn of events.

While Kleeschulte described the mandatory resignations as routine, some aides felt the need to seek jobs elsewhere. Roll Call was notified by another Republican Senator’s office that at least one of Murkowski’s aides had applied for a position there. The staffer in that office, who asked not to be identified, said she was dismayed by the news. Another aide in yet another Senator’s office said the scuttlebutt was Murkowski only wanted people from Alaska working for her.

Pay for Play. What does Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) have against erections?

The question arose after reading a “Dear Colleague” letter last week in which King urged other Members (no pun intended) to oppose Medicare coverage for impotence drugs.

As the daughter of a urologist, HOH felt obliged to ask King if he thought our erectile-challenged elders should forfeit their right to a sex life.

“Is it the government’s business to provide those funds and resources so that old men can have sex when they want?” the Congressman replied.

King explained that throughout history “we’ve gotten along just fine without the government subsidizing people’s sex lives.” He said, “This kind of growth in government” — again, no pun, we’re sure, intended — “was never envisioned by our Founding Fathers.”

OK, pick a Founding Father, Congressman, and tell us then what he would have envisioned. “Well, let’s not do Thomas Jefferson but pick any other,” King replied, chuckling. “And knock Ben Franklin off the list while you’re at it!”

Jefferson of course not only wrote the Declaration of Independence, but he also loved French wine and women — not all of them French.

Franklin, too, was an inveterate womanizer (as well as a drinker) in addition to being a revolutionary and a politician. He once counseled a friend that if he could not remain faithful and must take a mistress, he should choose an older woman. After all, “in the dark all cats are grey,” Franklin said.

Jefferson and Franklin aside, King — whose district, incidentally, has a heavy senior population — believes our Founding Fathers would not have wanted taxpayers footing the bill for every old man’s Viagra, Cialis and Levitra prescription. He said men over 65 have paid for it themselves thus far and should continue to “find the $10 a month” to buy a pill rather than ask Medicare to, um, prop them up.

And this is where Jefferson and Franklin start rolling over in their graves. Because $10 a month assumes impotent Medicare recipients only want the benefits of ED medications once a month. King said he wasn’t sure how many impotence pills a physician prescribes at one time, but laughed and said, “I can’t imagine it’s 30!”

HOH was unable to reach former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) to get a final verdict on that one.

A Star Is(n’t) Born. Longtime Hill staffer Peter Yeo got to be an actor for a day in Hollywood recently. But he thinks he’d better keep his day job for now.

Yeo, the Democratic deputy chief of staff on the House International Relations Committee, wound up as an extra on the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” one of Yeo’s favorite shows. The show features Charlie Sheen as a happenin’ man about town — a “randy guy” as Yeo puts it — and Jon Cryer as Sheen’s dweeby, uptight chiropractor brother. The two men live together, along with the dweeby brother’s young son.

Yeo played an extra in a coffee shop scene that was part of last Monday’s episode. Knowing how much he loves the show, Yeo’s wife bought the part for him for Father’s Day back in June at a benefit auction for Food & Friends, a local nonprofit that provides meals to people battling HIV and AIDS.

Luckily for him, the particular episode he “starred” in featured former Bond girl Denise Richards, who is Sheen’s gorgeous real-life wife. But unluckily for Yeo, he and Richards did not share a love scene.

Instead, Yeo played one of those folks you always see chit-chatting in the background. Because his wife paid for the part, Yeo got lots of love from the camera, appearing in more than half of the camera shots of the four-minute scene.

“My instructions were to sit there, don’t look at the camera and talk to the person sitting next to me,” Yeo said.

But he really never even spoke to the guy next to him. If you’ve ever wondered what those background actors say to each other, Yeo solves the mystery: “Nothing. We were not allowed to speak. Not even to whisper.”

So really, Yeo’s acting experience on Stage 26 of the Warner Brothers Lot in Burbank wasn’t much different from his life in Congress.

“It was just like the Hill,” Yeo said of his Hollywood dalliance. “The Members are the principals and the staff are in the background. As a Hill staffer, I’m used to sitting in the background and being seen but not heard.”

Getting Behind the Coach. For those who thought Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) was ducking the tough questions about Pennsylvania politics during the lame-duck session, perish the thought.

Less than an hour after Judiciary Committee Republicans finally rallied around beleaguered Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), HOH cornered Santorum, who had been conspicuously quiet about Specter’s bid for the chairmanship in the midst of an uproar by conservative activists.

Asked if he would care to answer a controversial question, Santorum shook his head and walked away.

At which point HOH shouted out the question: Should Joe Paterno resign from coaching football at Santorum’s beloved Penn State?

“No,” Santorum said, wheeling quickly to stick up for his fellow Republican Italian-American. “How could I? I love the guy!”

Sure enough, a couple days later Joe Pa’s Nittany Lions won their final game of the year — after losing most every other — and he announced his intention to return to the sidelines next year.

What does Santorum say to the dispirited legions of Penn State alums who are tired of the losing seasons in spite of Paterno’s great past?

“Wait ’til next year,” he said, remaining firmly in Paterno’s camp.

Specter could have used such support. Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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