Rumpled Senate Democrats Share Their Fashion Secrets

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is a man who stands accused of many things -- loving television cameras, the New York Giants and the sound of his own voice, for example -- but never in his storied career has he been called a fashion plate.

And no one in his or her right mind would suspect Schumer of having a European tailor. Which is why his (loud) conversation aboard a recent northbound train came as such a shock to two informants, who also happened to be sitting in the same first-class car.

Schumer, along with the equally unfashionable Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), were headed to Philadelphia tomorrow to attend a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Schumer chairs. A young woman who works at the DSCC rode with them. The senators, uncharacteristically, happened to notice her stylish clothes and were overheard complimenting her necklace.

Leahy, whose idea of haute couture is a pair of Birkenstocks and a flannel shirt, mistook the aide's green necklace for authentic jade. She confessed that it wasn't and that she had bought it at Target. Which prompted Schumer -- talking at his usual 60 to 80 decibels above normal speaking levels -- to tell his aide and colleagues about his French tailor.

"His name is Jay-Say Pennay!" shouted Schumer, using a variation on "Jacques Pennay," the more common faux-Francophilic pronunciation of J.C. Penney.

Schumer does have a thing for fashion, apparently. He offered legislation last summer with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to fight piracy and protect New York's fashion designers from (mostly Chinese) rip-offs.

Asked about his French tailor, Schumer confirmed and quipped, "And I do all my shopping at Tarjay." (That's Target for those who don't parle Schumerese.)

Reid-ing the Caucus Tea Leaves

New numbers are in on Nevada voter registration, and it looks good for the Silver State's Democrats. But potentially troubling for Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.).

Statewide, Democrats went from trailing Republicans by 6,000 voters in the fall of 2006 to a 35,000-voter edge now, a net gain of more than 40,000 voters in a swing state. According to the state's Democratic Party, half of those gains consisted of voters who registered for the Democratic presidential caucus seven weeks ago.

As we reported in late January, this could help the Democratic nominee, because President Bush narrowly won the state in 2000 and 2004. It also could boost the reelection chances in 2010 of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, who championed the Nevada caucus.

Most immediately, it could make Porter's reelection bid that much more difficult. In 2006, when Porter won by fewer than 4,000 votes over a political newcomer, Democrats had a 2,000-vote edge among registered voters. Now, after the surge of newly registered Democrats from the caucus, Republicans trail by almost 19,000 voters in the state's 2nd Congressional District.

Republican strategists said they already have launched a voter registration drive for the Nov. 4 election and promise to close the gap.

New Outposts

Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) has completed a reshuffling of his communications team with the addition of one of the longest-serving flacks on Capitol Hill and the departure of two press aides who served as point men during Craig's legal and political crisis last summer.

Susan Irby, who served for nearly 23 years with Mississippi Republican Trent Lott in the House and Senate before Lott retired to K Street in December, has become Craig's communications director.

She replaces Dan Whiting, the Washington-based press adviser who is leaving for a post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Back in Idaho, Sid Smith has left as press secretary to become executive director of the Idaho Republican Party. During the scandal over Craig's arrest in an airport restroom, Whiting handled much of the national media and Smith the local press.

For Irby, it's a natural fit. Lott and Craig were close allies throughout the 1990s, and made up half of the "Singing Senators" barbershop quartet.

"I know that [Craig's] energy and leadership made possible the victories of the Reagan and subsequent Republican revolutions to cut spending, cut taxes, cut federal regulations and rebuild our national security," Irby told On the Hill. "Senator Craig is committed to maintaining that same level of dedication in his service to Idaho and the nation throughout his last term, and I'm honored to have the opportunity to work with him."

In her new job, Irby isn't likely to face anything resembling the media attention that her predecessors endured last fall. Craig intends to resign at the end of this year. His appeal to withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct -- the charge that resulted from his arrest in a sting targeting lewd behavior in a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport bathroom -- is still pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

For those hesitant to believe Craig will resign -- he changed his mind several times last September -- the filing deadline to run for reelection in Idaho is March 21.

Byrd Rehospitalized

The Senate's longest-serving member, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), was readmitted to the hospital yesterday afternoon. According to Byrd's spokesman, Jesse Jacobs, the senator was hospitalized because of a reaction to antibiotics used to treat a urinary tract infection.

"His stay is expected to be brief," Jacobs said.

Byrd, 90, was first admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center last week after falling at his Virginia home. He was later released after doctors concluded he hadn't broken any bones.

Suffragette Station

Given the major role women voters are playing in this year's presidential race, the Capitol's women's caucus should have plenty to roar about at next week's annual gala, where it will unveil its legislative agenda.

The bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues boasts members in Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) corner, others in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-N.Y.) camp and yet others siding with presumptive GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Yet, Wednesday's dinner in the East Hall of Union Station will put partisan presidential politics aside -- don't worry, junkies, it's only for a few hours -- to unite around one happy bipartisan agenda.

The group's co-chairs say women have come a long way since gaining the vote 87 years ago.

"Today, women are expected to cast more than half the votes in the upcoming 2008 election, and the issues driving women to the polls in record numbers this year -- health care, the economy and education -- are issues the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues has been tackling for 31 years," say Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

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