Jesse Helms: Bono's my buddy

Former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) considers Irish rock star Bono “an enormously impressive gentleman” and a friend of his and his wife’s.

So says the conservative icon in his memoirs, Here’s Where I Stand, due out late this month.

Former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) considers Irish rock star Bono “an enormously impressive gentleman” and a friend of his and his wife’s.

So says the conservative icon in his memoirs, Here’s Where I Stand, due out late this month.

The 83-year-old Helms confesses he’d never heard of the U2 front man before their first meeting in 2001 but his “younger staff members had” and “lined up to get their pictures taken.”

He says he “happily accepted Bono’s invitation to take my family to his U2 concert in Washington, D.C., that week,” although he wasn’t quite as “into” the music as his grandkids, who remain envious of Helms’s relationship with Bono.

Helms also puts to rest the rumor that he and President Carter were distantly related. “[A] careful tracing of the family tree,” he writes, revealed only a possibility that each of their ancestors were neighbors in rural North Carolina.

“It hasn’t always been clear which of us would have been less enthusiastic to see the other guy show up at a family reunion,” writes Helms, who retired after 30 years in the Senate and now lives with his wife, Dot, in Raleigh.

He’s no more kind toward Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whom Helms found “to be a bit arrogant and overbearing, always looking for a television camera to preen in front of.”

In a foreword to the book, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) includes Helms among those “couple dozen” senators who “stand out in history as … defining leaders of their times.” Frist adds that “it would take ten senators to equal the impact of one Senator Helms.”


U.S. Chamber buys a row house for its lobbyists

As of next year, they’ll be no more cabs and subway rides to the Hill for the Chamber of Commerce’s 75-odd lobbyists and policy wonks.

The Chamber announced Friday that it has finalized the purchase of a circa-1890 Victorian row house on New Jersey Avenue S.E., only three blocks from the Capitol. As if to underscore the strength of the real-estate market, the influential business organization ponied up a cool $1.9 million for the five-story property — exclusive of the renovation work that remains to be done.

Chamber staff will now be a short stroll from all three branches of government. Its headquarters is located at 1615 H St. N.W., directly across Lafayette Park from the White House, on the original site of Daniel Webster’s Washington home.

“We are already neighbors with the White House on Lafayette Park — now we’ll be in Congress’s back yard as well,” Chamber Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Clark said in a release. “This purchase will make it easier for us to conduct our advocacy work on the Hill.”


Center identifies Bush’s fat-cat ambassadors

Presidents’ nominating their friends and high-dollar political donors to plum ambassadorships is nothing new, and a new report by the Center for Responsive Politics goes inside President Bush’s penchant for doing so.

The Center identifies “at least 40” well-connected individuals currently serving as ambassadors or who have nominations pending. These 40 donated $8.8 million to federal candidates and political parties between 1999 and 2004. Not surprisingly, $7.7 million of it went to Republicans, including nearly $800,000 to Bush’s two campaigns, his inaugural funds and his Florida recount fund in 2000.

Of the checks written to Democrats by the group, nearly all came from Ameriquest chief Roland Arnall. But never fear for Karl Rove and company; Arnall and his wife kicked in $1.1 million to Republicans during the same period.

Behind Arnall on the list of top donors are investments banker Ronald Spogli, currently nominated to be the envoy to Italy, who gave $803,000 to Republicans, and GOP fundraiser Catherine Todd Bailey, currently ambassador to Latvia, who contributed $621,000.

The Center notes that presidents “traditionally reserve about a third of all ambassadorships for friends and political loyalists.”


20-something blogger to fill Conconi’s gossip post

In an apparent move to reach out to a younger readership, Washingtonian magazine has tapped a 25-year-old blogger as the new editor of the wide-ranging, front-of-the-book “Capital Comment” section overseen by the legendary Chuck Conconi for the past 14 years.

In an e-mail to friends and colleagues, Garrett Graff, who now edits local media blog “Fishbowl DC” as part of the Mediabistro empire, said the opportunity to succeed Conconi arose “out of the blue last week.” He’ll start late next week, although he said he’ll keep some of his duties at the website.

No word yet from The Washington Post on who might fill the role that Conconi put on the map when he wrote the “Reliable Source” column, which has been vacant since Richard Leiby and Anne Schroeder left in May — Leiby for other duties at the Post and Schroeder for Capitol File magazine.

But it won’t be an easy task, according to Eugene Robinson, former editor of the Post’s Style section and now an editorial-page columnist. Robinson said he’s not aware that his successor, Debra Heard, has anointed one of four likely candidates, adding, “Basically, it’s impossible to choose a gossip columnist for a newspaper that doesn’t want a gossip columnist.”


Durenberger takes measure of Bush’s clout with Congress

Former Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) has some advice for journalists trying to predict how much clout President Bush will have with Congress when lawmakers return from their August recess.

Durenberger, who heads the National Institute of Health Policy at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis, writes in his latest monthly newsletter, “If I were a journalist, I’d be saying the following” about how Bush’s election mandate will influence Congressional behavior:

“The challenge of Iraq and counter-terrorism worldwide is enormous and more consuming of the White House’s time and talent than anyone lets on, especially Cool Condi.

“We must look at the Social Security ‘privatization’ effort not as a win or loss, but as President Bush’s commitment to take on tough issues that others have dodged.

“The most important domestic policy task is the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) and — this year — the new prescription drug benefit. President Bush probably doesn’t have the influence over Medicare beneficiaries that health professionals and informed families will have. Unfortunately, that may not be enough.”

Durenberger, who succeeded the late Hubert Humphrey (D) in November 1978 and served two full terms before retiring in 1995, characterized Bush’s legislative victories with the passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the energy and highway bills as hollow triumphs.

CAFTA was “no biggie, except in six small countries,” he writes, while the energy and highway bills “have almost no new policy and a heck of a lot of pork barrel spending for a bunch of so-called conservatives.”

And he predicts that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s support of stem-cell research “will help get the first-ever George W. veto, only to be overridden later.”
He adds, in the best tradition of political prognostication, “If the Senate passes the Castle-Specter bill, it then becomes a question of adequate number of votes to override it [a veto] in the House. If the House bill is amended slightly in the Senate in ways that our own [Sen.] Norm Coleman [R-Minn.] has been exploring, you won’t get the House to agree to its modifications. Either one gets a veto. Karl Rove is making certain of that.”