Bad Joke

Posted August 12, 2005 at 5:26pm

There’s offensive, and then there’s really offensive. The latter aptly describes a racist joke that former Rep. Greg Laughlin, a Texas Republican, told one early summer night at the Quarterdeck restaurant in Arlington, Va. [IMGCAP(1)]

Laughlin, now a big-shot lobbyist with the firm Patton Boggs, dined at the burger and crab joint with a regular gaggle of Members, former Members and staff on June 8. The Southern party-switcher — he became a Republican in 1995 — got looks of horror instead of laughs when the N-word rolled off his tongue just a little too easily.

The shocking joke went over like a lead balloon with others in his supper club, including Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), former Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.) and an unidentified black woman who works in the Washington office of a defense contractor.

“Mr. Callahan was appalled,” said Clay Swanzy, a senior associate at Sonny Callahan and Associates in Alabama. Swanzy didn’t attend the dinner that night, but he said Callahan and others told him all about it. “He was shocked that Mr. Laughlin would say something like that. They were all appalled.”

Stunned facial expressions at the table said it all, and Laughlin quickly realized he had made a big gaffe. He decided to apologize to the African-American woman but she had already left the restaurant, according to one source. Laughlin thought about calling her but “an unnamed third person who has been through something similar like this” counseled the former Member to do nothing, the source told HOH.

Laughlin is openly apologetic now. He provided a statement to HOH saying, “I made an inexcusable error in judgment and told a joke that included inappropriate, hurtful and offensive language. It was stupid and I am profoundly sorry and embarrassed by my inexcusable behavior and poor judgment.”

The Texan said he didn’t intend to be “malicious, but I recognize that my conduct was unacceptable and I want to personally apologize to everyone I may have offended.”

Patton Boggs apparently will retain Laughlin, one of the more notable lobbyists at the firm, whose clients include Time Warner, the Kenya Tourism Federation, EchoStar and the U.S. Enrichment Corporation. The firm, however, is none too pleased with Laughlin’s dinner-table manners.

“We were distressed over the incident and we’ve communicated that to Mr. Laughlin,” Brian Hale, a Patton Boggs spokesman, said.

Boss Attack. Since when do Hill aides suggest openly that their bosses be flogged for voting the wrong way? Folks who received an e-mail from an aide to Rep. Rubèn Hinojosa (D-Texas) were bemused about why the staffer appeared to be advocating harsh punishment for his own boss for voting for the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The e-mail sent by Israel Rocha, Hinojosa’s policy adviser, suggested that the 15 Democrats who voted for CAFTA must be punished. “Not a single one of those cowardly 15 should receive a dime more of labor money,” the e-mail said. “Not a single phone call should be made on their behalf. No labor endorsement should grace their re-election literature. They must pay.”

On first glance, it certainly appeared that Rocha himself had written the lengthy talk-tough missive suggesting various forms of political torture for the 15 naughty House Democrats, including, yes, the hand that feeds him. The subject line of his e-mail was: “Punish the CAFTA 15,” and it was not marked as a forwarded e-mail.

Rocha refused to answer questions about the e-mail, referring HOH instead to Press Secretary Ciaran Clayton. She explained that Rocha “wasn’t advocating punishing” his boss and the other Democratic defectors. He was simply circulating the missive to “interested parties to let them know.”

In fact, Rocha had actually lifted the text from an online ad campaign by Campaign for America’s Future. And, whoops, he forgot to give attribution. “Once he realized the error, he sent a follow-up e-mail clarifying its content,” Clayton said.

Bon Chance! Imagine The Nation magazine losing one of its reporters to the National Review. Or hippy-dippy NPR losing talent to Fox News. Or Fox News losing talent to lefty French TV. Oh, wait! Oui, oui! Zat eez happening!

Fox News Congressional producer Julie Asher, a talented blonde bombshell, is making an extreme leap from the star-spangled Freedom Fry network to the French television network TF1.

Asher, who is fluent in French — she had to keep that a secret until now — is bolting Fox to become a producer in TF1’s Washington-based U.S. bureau beginning at the end of this month.

Asked if her job switch had anything to do with wanting to eat French fries again, Asher replied, “On double super secret background, it’s really all about the pastries.”

Stork Alert. Who says the House Democrats aren’t making gains?

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and his wife, Kasey, welcomed their third child, Liam Henry Crowley, on Wednesday, Aug. 10. Liam Crowley has a little bit of dark hair and very blue eyes, the family reports. Baby Liam joins sister Kenzie and brother Cullen.

“The truth is that this is all a part of a gimmick to add more Democratic voters to my district. It is not easy to resist two tall, adorable, nearly bald Irishmen, especially when one is 8 lbs. 3 ounces and 21 1/4 inches long.”

Erin Billings contributed to this report.

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