Heard on the Hill: Gin, Golf and a Bailout, Too

Posted October 2, 2008 at 6:42pm

The Senate has been in 24/7 nose-to-grindstone mode — particularly for those Senators and staffers trying to pull off passage of the Wall Street bailout bill. But it’s not all work and no play, as some Senators clearly tried to sneak in some fun amid all the pressures of meetings, briefings and cable news appearances.

[IMGCAP(1)]Just before the Senate was slated to vote on the bill Wednesday night, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) was spotted stocking up on celebratory libations at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, where he scooped up a handle of gin and a six-pack of tonic water (we can only hope the limes and ice were back at the office).

And on Thursday morning, a tipster spotted Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), one of the lead negotiators on the bailout bill, leaving his Penn Quarter apartment building toting a set of golf clubs.

Oh, Be-have! The big Wednesday night vote on the Senate floor was a somber affair. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ordered a seated vote, and Senators remained behind their desks,

staying quiet so that the clerk recording the vote could hear the historic “yeas” and “nays.”

But the serious tone was interrupted a few times with moments of levity from Senators who apparently didn’t get the memo that the roll call was supposed to be a very grave thing.

Twice, Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb.) phone began ringing loudly, which earned him a dirty look from some Senators intent on the weighty matters at hand, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

Nelson later explained that his daughter, who lives in California, had been watching the landmark vote on TV and called to tell her dad she liked his tie — and he took some teasing about the telethon afterward from colleagues.

And at another point during the vote, a noisy clutch of Republicans, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and John Thune (S.D.), entered the chamber chatting to one another, apparently after eating dinner in the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). When the rowdy group entered the hushed chamber, it took them a moment to realize what was going on, an onlooker tells HOH, after which they assumed slightly mortified expressions and fell silent.

Pelosi to GOP: Spare Me. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed GOP leaders’ complaints about her floor speech before Monday’s bailout bill defeat in a brief hallway interview on Thursday.

“Oh, please!” she said in response to a question about their complaints.

Asked whether she would take up Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) offer to speak “uncharacteristically nice” to the dozen Republicans who their leaders alleged switched their votes after Pelosi spoke, she replied, “You don’t think I was characteristically nice?”

Polling With the Enemy. HOH has some advice for all those Congressional candidates out there: When conducting a poll, it’s probably best not to survey the folks you’re running against.

But that’s just what happened earlier this week down in Georgia, when a pollster conducting a telephone survey for Republican House candidate Rick Goddard called the office of his rival, Rep. Jim Marshall (D), and queried a staffer on his political preferences, presidential picks and thoughts on the financial bailout legislation.

Marshall spokesman Doug Moore told HOH that the pollster called up the office and asked for a male, and so a male staffer went ahead and took the survey.

And not only did the survey give Marshall staffers a chuckle, but hearing the questions provided some handy inside knowledge on what their campaign competitors are up to. (Staffers even transcribed the survey and sent the questions in an e-mail to supporters.)

“I don’t know how they decide to do the numbers,” Moore joked. “I don’t know if they have random-digit dial, or something like that.”

Moore pointed out that the staffer-turned-respondent even corrected an inaccurate question by the pollster, who asked whether the respondent would support the $1 trillion Wall Street bailout. That, of course, is about $300 billion more than what actually would be allocated should the bill be approved.

Presumably, the pollster calling Marshall’s office was an accident, but we’ll never know for sure, since Goddard’s office declined to comment.

Not that Marshall’s team minded the phone call.

“We were very entertained,” Moore said.

A Little Congressional Kumbaya. The bipartisan spirit that marked the Senate’s passage of the Wall Street bailout legislation continued on Thursday, when retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) gave his farewell floor speech.

It just so happened that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — whom Hagel beat in a stunning upset in the 1996 race for Senate — was undertaking his already-scheduled duties at the helm of the chamber. And since the Senate was pretty much done with its work, the one-time rivals were virtually alone in the chamber, as Hagel reflected on their nearly eight years of service together. (Nelson was elected in 2000.)

Afterward, Nelson told a staffer that the moment was one of “divine providence.”

Steven T. Dennis, Emily Pierce, John McArdle and CongressNow’s Vicki Needham contributed to this report.

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