Not-So-Warm Welcome

Posted September 18, 2007 at 6:32pm

When Sen. David Vitter (La.) returned from the Big Easy after he ’fessed up to consorting with a prostitute, Republicans at their weekly policy lunch gave him a resounding applause. Not so for sex-scandal-plagued Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). [IMGCAP(1)]

As Craig made his way back to the Senate on Tuesday for the first time since his arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting in Minneapolis was revealed, he got to see who among him were his friends, and who were frenemies. Following Vitter’s lead, Craig spoke at the weekly GOP luncheon, apologizing for the distraction and noting that he had the “best legal team around,” according to one Republican Senator.

Still Craig wouldn’t go so far as to say that his return to Capitol Hill meant he would rescind his resignation. “No, not at all. I am here to work with my staff and my office and to work with my leadership,” he said.

Not all Members were willing to extend the olive branch to Craig, but he did find some goodwill among fellow scandal plagued colleagues. Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Ted Stevens (R), who themselves have gotten some unwanted attention recently over ethics issues, greeted Craig. As Craig extended his hand somewhat tentatively to Murkowski, she smiled and said, “Can I give you a hug?” before embracing the Idahoan warmly. And the rather prickly Stevens went so far as to give Craig a playful belly punch as he passed him on the floor.

For the most part, though, Craig had to keep a stiff upper lip as his colleagues dissed him, often leaving him to stand alone, awkwardly, for minutes at a time as his fellow Republicans busied themselves studying the floor, fixing their ties or discussing the minutiae of D.C. voting rights policy.

Still, a number of red-faced Republicans — including an obviously uncomfortable Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Conference Vice Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) — braved the glare of C-SPAN’s ever-watchful cameras to welcome Craig back to the Senate.

Not to be outdone, the folks on the other side of the aisle also showed Craig some love. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was one of the first to greet Craig as he stepped tentatively into the chamber, while Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went so far as to walk across the chamber to give Craig a supportive handshake. But those displays of collegial support were contrasted by the number of his GOP brothers and sisters who did not approach him, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Thad Cochran (Miss.).

Despite the tepid welcome from his colleagues, Craig is continuing his quest to get his guilty plea overturned. Asked whether he’s optimistic, the jury’s still out. “I have no opinion on it yet. I’d like to be,” he said.

More Politics, Less Prose. Most presidential candidates hitting the campaign trail hone in on key primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, but not Sen. Chris Dodd. The Connecticut Democrat was out pumping his recently released book “Letters from Nuremberg: My Father’s Narrative of a Quest for Justice” at a packed reading at Politics & Prose Bookstore on Monday night in the electorally challenged District of Columbia.

But that didn’t mean the question-and-answer period of the book reading focused on his father’s lawyering at the Nuremberg trials. Instead, Dodd held court at what resembled more of a town hall meeting, facing questions on everything from the Bush administration’s view on the rule of law to Dodd’s stance on the death penalty and whether taxes would ever be compounded quarterly.

There was, however, at least one Dodd disciple in the room who praised “Letters From Nuremberg” as the message for the next generation, prompting Dodd to quip, “This was not a paid political advertisement.”

There may not have been any babies to kiss at this almost-town hall. Still Dodd, ever the politician, ended with a resolute “God bless independent book stores” that got him the desired round of applause.

Subway Savior. Capitol Hill subway riders were in for surprise Tuesday, when the doors on the Senate train wouldn’t open upon arriving at the Capitol platform.

In what resembled a mini Senate version of “Rescue 911” sans host William Shatner’s narration, fellow rider Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) sprung into action, instructing fellow subway riders how to open the two sets of car doors. “He took control of the situation,” says Bob Stevenson, the one-time spokesman to former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) who was stuck in the middle subway car with Coleman.

But, the knight in shining armor — or rather, suit — wasn’t finished. Coleman helped pry open the other two car doors helping stranded riders get out of the car and on their merry way.

Pocket Buddy. Note to Members: Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) isn’t the only guy on Capitol Hill carrying a pocket Constitution. While the President Pro Tem is famed for reading from his pocket Constitution ad nauseum to delay votes, Rep. Mike Conaway is going a step further.

The Texas Republican, who carries his pocket Constitution around in his backpack, took advantage of Monday’s Constitution Day to reintroduce the AMERICA Act: A Modest Effort to Read and Instill the Constitution Again. The bill would make all Members of Congress not only obtain copies of the Constitution and distribute it to staff, but also require that they read it annually.

Conaway’s already leading by example: The second-term Congressman has doled out a pocket constitution to each of his staff members and requires they reread it each year. “He feels it’s really important for everyone to fully understand if you work here you are upholding the Constitution,” said Conaway’s spokeswoman, Ann Koch.

While Conaway hasn’t gone so far as to install mandatory Constitution story time, he does patrol the office to make sure that staff have signed the inside cover, the universal signal that the required year’s reading is complete.

Silverware Not Required. Fearful that trying to balance a plate of pork chops while mingling with Members might be more than a little off-putting? Well, your worries are over. The National Pork Producers Council has its version of the Miss Manners answer at tonight’s Rack of Pork reception in Longworth 1300: gloves.

The council is handing out white gloves to hungry attendees so they can nosh on pork gracefully without trying to navigate a plate and silverware. And while the group has updated its menu to include BBQ baby-back ribs and bacon and cheddar paillettes for the first time, they wouldn’t dream of removing their infamous dessert “pork brittle,” in which the council substitutes pork for peanuts.

“It actually works very well,” says Melissa Tarelton of the NPPC. “You either love it, or you hate it.”

Elizabeth Brotherton, Emily Pierce and John Stanton contributed to this report.

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