Just for Ben

Posted July 13, 2007 at 5:56pm

Do not attempt to adjust the color on your TV set. Yes, Sen. Ben Nelson’s famously lush head of hair really is a dark chestnut color, instead of its usual gray-flecked brown hue. Though the Nebraska Democrat certainly isn’t the only Member of Congress who has experimented with, ahem, a little touch-up, the new look he debuted this week certainly puts him in the running for least subtle.

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Nelson spokesman David DiMartino explains that the extreme makeover was an inadvertent one, offering this hair-raising tale: Nelson’s longtime barber (and by longtime we mean 40 years) recently retired, and the thick-tressed Senator has been shopping around for a replacement. The most recent barber he visited suggested a “little rinse,” a supposedly natural-looking step using a solution the spokesman said involved a product they dubbed “Just for Ben.”

The results, however, were hair-iffic. Word around the Senate was that Nelson had been searching for an actual product called “Oops” that is supposed to remove hair dye.

As part of her duty to readers, HOH attempted to get to the, um, root of the story for days, only to have her calls unreturned. The Nelson press operation has been in crisis mode, DiMartino jokingly explained Friday. He says Nelson’s crack spinmeisters considered — and thankfully discarded — the following explanations for their boss’ suddenly dark locks:

• Denial: “He didn’t color his hair, he just had the gray ones removed via electrolysis.”

• The Hollywood Defense: “He’s auditioning to play the anti-Leahy in the next Batman movie” — a reference to HOH’s report that shiny-domed Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is playing a small role in an upcoming Batman flick.

• The Policy Defense: “The recent immigration debate caused his natural color to come out of the shadows.”

• The Jingle Defense: “He just thought he was worth it,” or “Does he or doesn’t he? Only his barber knows.”

HOH is certainly relieved that the Nelson folks went with honesty, which, any third-grade teacher will tell you, is the best policy. As for Nelson, he’s weathered the bad-hair week “wiser but browner,” DiMartino says.

And the auditioning barber? Let’s just say he didn’t make the cut.

Obey v. Bloomberg. It’s a showdown at the gun-control corral between two of the toughest guys we know. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took aim at House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) on Friday after the chairman complained about bullying tactics by the mayor’s lobbying team in a feud over gun legislation.

Bloomberg didn’t take kindly to Obey’s complaints at a Thursday markup that he felt bullied by Bloomberg’s staff over a provision restricting access to information on gun sales. The provision is backed by gun rights groups but vehemently opposed by Bloomberg, who says it protects criminals and the dealers who illegally sell guns to them.

“I don’t know what bullying tactics mean,” Bloomberg said on his radio show Friday. “I do know what it means when I go to the hospital, as I had to do … to talk to the parents of two police officers who had been shot doing their job protecting the rest of us. You want to talk about bullying? Just explain to the parents of these two young men that somebody was bullying.”

Bloomberg said he is just trying to enforce the laws prohibiting gun dealers from selling guns to criminals, and he added the disputed provision prevents police officers from sharing information until a gun crime has been committed.

“At least now we can hold accountable those elected officials who voted for this piece of legislation and when there is a murder in their district, they are going to have to explain why they voted to allow criminals to go about their business without worrying about whether the cops catch ’em because they’ve tied the hands of police officers,” Bloomberg said.

An Obey spokeswoman says her boss stands by his statement that Bloomberg’s staff attempted to bully him, including threatening to run TV ads in his district, even though Bloomberg’s staff denies doing so.

HOH didn’t ask whether Bloomberg also demanded his lunch money.

The Doctor Is in. Senators sure have missed having former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) around the chamber, perhaps not so much for his legislative acumen as his medical expertise. Good thing, then, that the Senate’s newest member, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who replaced the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R), is a doc, too, and apparently available for between-votes consultations with his fellow Senators.

On Thursday, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) was deep in consultation with Barrasso in the basement of the Capitol near the elevators leading to the Senate floor. Warner was motioning to his leg, apparently indicating an injury. Barrasso was overheard telling him he might just need to get an MRI, but that it looked fine. Another HOH spy reports overhearing the good doctor suggesting Warner down some Advil. The obliging, never-off-duty doc even bent down at one point to examine Warner’s lower leg.

Warner later told HOH he “over-exercised” playing tennis and hurt his knee and that Barrasso, who’s conveniently an orthopedist, was checking him out. “And it didn’t cost me a dime,” Warner said. “It was even a public exam with all the people passing by.”

Warner added that the two men have struck up a friendship; Warner’s father was a physician, too, he notes. And Warner divulged that he thinks Senators aren’t the smartest folks around. Nope, that title goes to docs. “If I had had half the brains of my father, I probably could have made it in the medical profession,” he confessed. “But I came up short.”

Aw, Senator’s not too shabby.

Trouble for Gonzo. Besieged Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has another ticked-off Member of Congress to deal with, and this time the subject isn’t lying to Congress, but rather something that people really care about: “The Simpsons.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is convinced that something’s fishy about Springfield, Vt. — and not his hometown of Springfield, Ore. — winning the contest that selected the home of the wacky animated family. And the irate Oregonian last week dashed off a letter to the AG demanding an investigation into possible voter fraud.

“This travesty must not stand,” DeFazio wrote to Gonzales. He notes that although Springfield, Vt., has only 9,000 residents, it somehow managed to garner more than 15,000 votes. “Unless they passed a law giving cows the right to vote, this smacks of election fraud,” he (we think) jokingly harrumphs.

DeFazio wants Gonzales to take this investigation a bit more seriously than he did, say, the dismissal of federal prosecutors. “Knowing how passionately the Bush Administration feels about counting every vote,” he writes, “I urge you to petition the Supreme Court to review the facts and consider whether this election should be set aside.”

Just when the poor shell-shocked Gonzales might be wondering if he has another Congressional brouhaha on his hands, DeFazio drops a few winks to show that he’s just joshing, while establishing his Simpson-fan bona fides. The letter’s last line: “Okilidokily.” And the letter’s P.P.S. reads “Vote Quimby!”

Erin P. Billings, Steven T. Dennis and Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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