Zell Miller illuminates his feud with Chris Matthews

Former Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) had a beef with “Hardball” host Chris Matthews before he ever appeared on the show immediately after his fiery speech at the Republican National Convention last year.

Former Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) had a beef with “Hardball” host Chris Matthews before he ever appeared on the show immediately after his fiery speech at the Republican National Convention last year.

The famously disloyal Democrat reveals in his new book, A Deficit of Decency, that before telling Matthews he wished he could challenge him to a duel, he had long “detested” Matthews’s “know-it-all attitude and his bullying way of interviewing.” And earlier that evening, Matthews’s fellow MSNBC pundit Ron Reagan called Miller “kind of weird,” while Matthews himself had referred to Miller as an “old-time seggy,” meaning segregationist — a characterization Miller vehemently disputes.

Miller’s book grew out of a now-noteworthy speech he delivered in the Senate in February 2004 castigating American culture and politics, and ultimately leading to his keynoting the GOP convention. He remembers being asked to meet then-RNC head Marc Racicot and then-Bush-Cheney campaign chief Ken Mehlman to discuss whether he should give the speech, but, “because this Democrat had never been to the RNC headquarters before, I ended up going in the wrong building.”

If that speech was successful, it was a failure in one regard: Miller says he attempts to be “conversational” in television speeches, as if he’s talking to his granddaughter. “But I’ve never been able to do it,” he writes. “So Marine recruit Miller marched out onto that stage, stood at attention, and delivered for the drill instructor in my head who bellows, ‘Speak up, private, I can’t hear you.’”

Be American, buy American

It may not be as famous as the Incredible Hulk tie that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), wears, but Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) neckwear became a topic during last week’s confirmation hearing for Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) as the new U.S. trade representative.

Rockefeller had just asked Portman about the trade deficit, but before he could respond, Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) interjected, “I can’t help but tell the world that everybody knows where the Rockefeller neckties come from. They probably come from Italy.”

“I think he might be right,” said Rockefeller, as he checked the tag. But no, this particular tie seemed to have a British provenance. “It says ‘Prince of Wales,’” he explained.

Portman interjected, “I think that’s a small town in western West Virginia.”

“Right near Parkersburg,” Rockefeller said, before getting the hearing back on track.

“I appreciate the warning” on the deficit, Portman concluded.

Reid: Bush monopolizes White House briefings

It turns out that those high-powered breakfast meetings at the White House aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told a group of reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast yesterday that his occasional White House meetings with the president were “nice” and featured oatmeal and bananas.

But although Reid said President Bush was always on time, it seems the president conducts something of a filibuster, monopolizing the first 50 minutes with his own views on foreign affairs, leaving participants struggling during the final 10 minutes to try to question him.

“There’s not time for exchange,” Reid said. “So I guess what I’m saying is, he gives us a lecture.”

Maybe the real problem is that Reid just doesn’t like Bush — or perhaps he just gets a little cranky in the morning. He convened the Monitor breakfast — the first in his career — by saying, “I don’t like press conferences. Basically, I don’t like talking to you.”

Tales from the House gym

You’d think with the Nationals in town, members would have baseball fever. But if recent comments are any indication, they can’t get their heads out of the House gym, where pickup basketball rules.

Chad Pergram, senior correspondent for Capitol News Connection, just completed a day-in-the-life piece on Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) for KPBS-FM in San Diego. Wherever he turned for comment, pickup hoops seemed to come up.

“When you’re playing basketball with Duke Cunningham, you’ve just got to be careful because when he sees the basket and the basketball he believes the shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) “And anything that comes in his way is potentially damaged goods.”

But Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) appears not to have the same problem. “He’s very tough inside,” Serrano said. “And since I’m a liberal I only move to my left and he only moves to his right and we stay out of each other’s way.”

For the record, Cunningham is 6 feet 2, which may account for his fearsome low-post moves.

Then last week, Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) was asked how House Financial Services Committee Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) felt about his bill to curb predatory lending practices. Miller’s response: “Mr. Oxley and I are frequently assigned to guard each other … simply because we are the two slowest people on the court, and certainly he does not want to spoil that good relationship with me.”

Sen. John McCain’s new accessory

What was that on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) wrist last week as he taught a class at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis?

It was another cause bracelet, this one issued by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The wristband, etched with the words “I Support Our Troops,” is blood-red, which, according to the VFW, “symbolizes the sacrifices of all the nation’s veterans who have help keep America free.”

McCain, a Navy vet himself, famously endured five years in a North Vietnamese prison as a prisoner of war.

Although the wristbands only became available this month, a spokeswoman said the senator has had his since February. A group of VFW officials gave him the accessory during a meeting.

Proceeds from the sale of the bracelets will go toward emergency services and morale-boosting programs for soldiers and their families.

Musical hideaways in the Senate

Ah, a new Congress. New faces, new ambitions … and a scramble for the best hideaways in the Capitol. Hideaways, as they’re called, are small, unmarked offices within the Capitol that senators can retreat to between votes so that they don’t have to trudge back to their respective office buildings. The hideaways are generally claimed on a strict seniority system.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has claimed former Sen. Don Nickles’s (R-Okla.) old hideaway on the third floor of the Capitol, near House Majority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) office.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the new Appropriations Committee chairman, has also upgraded to a new Capitol office. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) took Cochran’s old office, also on the third floor.

3-on-3 basketball tourney to come to Capitol

The 10th annual Hoop Dreams 3-on-3 basketball tournament moves to the West Front of the Capitol this year.

The tourney, which raises money for scholarships, mentoring and SAT prep classes for local students, will be held Saturday, June 18, on Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. between 3rd and 6th streets.

Tomorrow night, Hoop Dreams holds its annual congressional reception in the Senate’s Mansfield Room. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) is hosting the event, and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) are expected to attend, along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Rhode Island delegation.