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This Time, Hagels Aren't Boarding the Straight Talk Express

By Paul Kane And Ben Pershing
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Once upon a time, Lilibet Hagel was a big supporter of John McCain. Back in the fall of 1999, the wife of Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) gave the Arizona Republican's 2000 presidential campaign $1,000, the maximum donation allowed at the time.

These days, however, Lilibet Hagel is a proud donor to McCain's likely general-election opponent, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

On Feb. 11, the day before the Virginia primary, Lilibet Hagel donated $250 to the Obama presidential campaign, giving her McLean address to the Federal Election Commission. Two weeks later, she gave Obama another $250, according to FEC records.

Her donations are the latest twist to the long-running saga of Chuck Hagel's drift from McCain. He was once considered McCain's closest friend in the Senate -- Vietnam veterans with adjacent offices.

Now Hagel is a lonely voice against the Iraq war in the GOP conference.

Like his wife, Chuck Hagel gave $1,000 to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. But in 2008 he not only has not contributed but has also pointedly declined to endorse McCain, citing their very different views on Iraq and, more broadly, McCain's support of the Bush White House's handling of global diplomacy.

For what it's worth, Lilibet Hagel's donations to Obama were not her first to a Democrat. Last August, she gave $250 to Niki Tsongas-- wife of the late Paul Tsongas, a former senator who ran for president in 1992 -- when she was in the midst of a hard-fought special election for a House seat in Massachusetts. That donation was routed to now-Rep. Tsongas through Act Blue, a liberal online contribution bundler, FEC records show.

"Mrs. Hagel is a private citizen who is entitled to decide who she supports and how she supports them," said Mike Buttry, Hagel's chief of staff. "She has admired Mrs. Tsongas for many years, since she was married to Senator Tsongas. Senator Hagel has not endorsed or supported any candidate in the presidential race."

Recently, Chuck Hagel, who is retiring at the end of this year, has defended Obama's approach to diplomatic engagement with rogue nations such as Iran, a strategy McCain and President Bush have likened to "appeasement." Some even have speculated about an Obama-Hagel ticket.

But for now, the only official Obama supporter in the Hagel home is Lilibet.

Pam{heart} Harry

If you can't get your new political memoir hyped by Oprah, what's the next best thing?

How about Pamela Anderson?

That's where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) finds himself these days, with his new book, "The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington," serving as inspiration for the Playboy Playmate-turned-actress-turned-blogger.

Anderson maintains a blog at http://www.pamelachannel.com, which she politely calls a "diary." Usual subjects include announcing the title of her new reality-TV show and linking to a new study on how to cure hepatitis C through "homeopathic therapy."

In mid-May, a few weeks after her star turn at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, Anderson told her fans about lobbying Reid on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

I'm thrilled to see all the buzz about Senator Harry Reid's new book, "The Good Fight." Of all the leaders I met in Washington last month with Dan Mathews from PETA, Senator Reid was the most sincere, easygoing and obviously compassionate thank god he's the majority leader . . . My BS-o-meter didn't flicker once around Harry Reid and it usually goes crazy around politicians, not to mention in Hollywood.

She even provides a link for her fans to go straight to Amazon.com and buy "The Good Fight." They may not be exactly the same sort of fans Oprah brings in, but hey -- a book sale is a book sale.

More to Love

With members of Congress so very popular with the American people -- the latest Gallup poll puts congressional approval at a solid 18 percent -- perhaps the time is right to give the public more of what it loves.

The argument for a bigger House of Representatives is the basis for a new article in the magazine of the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, a California-based think tank. The piece makes the case that each House district now includes so many people that lawmakers may not represent their constituents as well as they could, or should.

When the current 435-member House was established in 1911, each district included about 200,000 people. Now the average district has about 640,000, and the number is rising. Western democracies including Britain and Germany have larger lower houses than does the United States, even though they have far fewer citizens.

So how big should the House be? One study cited in the Miller-McCune article suggests that the chamber could grow to 650 members. That would knock each district down to a more manageable 430,000 constituents or so.

A bigger House might mean lawmakers would be more responsive to helping constituents get their Social Security checks. But would it do a better job lowering gas prices, curbing illegal immigration or handling any of the other tasks the public currently thinks Congress does terribly? And do angry voters really want more lawmakers making $170,000 per year, airing annoying campaign ads and finding new ways to become enmeshed in scandal? Probably not.

Nor does there appear to be a huge appetite on the Hill for such a move. In the last Congress, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) introduced a bill "to establish a commission to make recommendations on the appropriate size of membership of the House." The measure picked up just one co-sponsor and didn't even receive a committee hearing.

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