Heard on the Hill: No Holder-ing Back

Posted December 8, 2008 at 6:36pm

Can you say “exhaustive?” The vetting process for Cabinet officers is veering into TMI-land (that’s shorthand for “too much information,” oldsters), according to a source knowledgeable about the confirmation process for Eric Holder, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to be attorney general.

[IMGCAP(1)]HOH’s source said Holder met with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy on Monday in preparation for his Senate confirmation and, in the interest of full disclosure, revealed to Leahy a skeleton in his closet that hadn’t made it into the disclosure forms: a speeding ticket issued Nov. 13 in North Carolina.

The speed-happy AG-wannabe was busted whilst cruising along at 90 miles an hour in a 70 mile-an-hour zone, he ’fessed up to Leahy. The charge was eventually reduced to 79 miles an hour, our source says, and the whole matter was resolved when Holder forked over a $146 fine.

Leahy seemed sympathetic. “After methodically completing the arduous background vetting process, it’s easy to imagine his chagrin when he saw those flashing lights in the rearview mirror,” Leahy tells HOH.

We’re guessing a little speeding ticket won’t be the apparently squeaky-clean Holder’s Zoe Baird (remember the Clinton-era AG nomination that stalled when it was revealed that she hired illegal immigrants as nannies and chauffeurs?) moment.

And our source swears that after coughing up the bucks and having to come clean to the Senate about the ticket, Holder’s learned his lesson. “While Eric Holder has made it clear he will be swift in reforming the Justice Department, he’s going to slow it down a bit on the open road,” our knowledgeable source promises.

President-in-Waiting … and Waiting. HOH reported earlier this month that Barack Obama isn’t technically the “president-elect,” even though that’s what everyone from newspapers (Roll Call included) to Senators are calling the guy these days. We noted, thanks to a geeky tipster and a college professor, that he wouldn’t officially be elected president until the Electoral College votes on Monday.

But it seems poor Obama — whom we can only refer to as “Mr. Obama,” since he gave up his Senate seat — will have to wait even a little longer to get that coveted title.

HOH checked with the House Parliamentarian’s office, which informed us that the date on which Obama gets to claim the “president-elect” mantle is actually Jan 8. Parliamentarian John Sullivan says that’s when the two chambers of Congress hold a joint session at which the electoral votes are actually counted and the vice president officially declares a winner.

“The joint session is largely ceremonial,” Sullivan said, although he noted that it’s not always drama-free: In 2005, Democrats objected to Ohio’s votes and lawmakers went back to their respective chambers before resuming the joint session, in which President George W. Bush eventually was declared the victor.

Gridiron Griping Grips Congress. Deep in the heart of Texas, college football fans are seething with disappointment. And Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is among them.

As pigskin followers already know, the Texas Longhorns (with an 11-1 record) were shut out of this year’s BCS National Championship game, despite earlier this year defeating the Oklahoma Sooners (12-1), the team named to battle the Florida Gators (12-1) for the title on Jan. 8.

It’s all because of the widely hated Bowl Championship Series, the complicated, computer-based system that uses statistics-based nitpicking to decide who plays for the championship. And that leaves Smith, whose district includes the University of Texas at Austin campus, a bit confused.

“I wish the BCS applied to politics because then the Republicans would be the majority in Congress,” Smith mused to HOH. “It doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Smith is just the latest in a growing group of politicians, including President-elect Barack Obama, who have criticized the BCS.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie recently wrote to Obama asking that he investigate the BCS after he becomes president. The Hawaii Democrat — who also introduced a bill in support of a college football playoff system — now plans to ask the incoming attorney general to look into the issue, spokesman Dave Helfert tells HOH.

And it’s not just about on-field bragging rights — Abercrombie believes the current system constitutes a restraint of trade.

Only five out of the 11 conferences get automatic BCS bids (there are five BCS bowls, but only one team from the six other conferences can get an invite). That’s unfair to otherwise deserving schools, as BCS bowl games generate “millions and millions of dollars in revenue,” Helfert said.

Case in point: This year’s two undefeated teams — the University of Utah and Boise State University — play in non-BCS conferences. Only Utah is heading to a BCS bowl game. (It should be noted that Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson and Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson co-sponsored Abercrombie’s bill.)

But for Smith, it is just about making sure everybody gets a fair shot.

“We already have a two-tiered bowl system,” Smith says. “Why not turn the BCS bowls into a playoff and keep the remaining bowls as they are? Then everybody’s happy.”

Everyone happy? That never happens — in sports or politics.

Rubbers Vs. the Road. Sen. Richard Shelby is all for helping out American companies, but apparently, he prefers red-white-and-blue condoms to domestic cars. The Alabama Republican is opposed to the proposed bailout for the Big Three U.S. automakers, a stance that prompted a few Hill staffers to smirkingly recall a time when Shelby was all for boosting products made in the good ole’ U.S.A. — when those companies were condom-makers located in Shelby’s home state.

Shelby inserted language in the 2004 budget bill requiring that a federal AIDS program buy American-made rubbers when possible. Now, though, he’s opposed to the loans Congress is considering as a prophylactic (pun intended) against bankruptcy for the car companies. Alabama is home to several foreign-car makers.

“When the rubbers meet the road, I guess he’s willing to screw with U.S. industry, unless it’s in Alabama,” one Senate Democratic aide laughed.

But Shelby’s spokesman Jonathan Graffeo insists the comparison of cars and condoms is “apples to oranges” (though HOH would have gone with “apples to bananas” for a little double-entendre). He says his boss has previously voted for spending bills with provisions requiring that federal funds should be used to buy American cars for various fleets.

And Shelby might have learned something about prevention from the condom-makers in his state. He’s threatening a filibuster of a possible auto bailout bill.

Briefly Quoted

“The Future is Cao.”

— The punny title of a memo that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent to colleagues after the victory by headline writers’ favorite Anh Cao against Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.).

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