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Blood in the Capitol After Bush's Meeting with GOP Senators

From the way Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) looked afterward, you'd have thought that President Bush's very rare face-to-face meeting on Capitol Hill today with Senate Republicans had erupted into a bloody brawl.

After Bush's closed-door 11th-hour appeal to rescue his immigration overhaul policy (and, thus, his domestic legacy), the Sleuth saw Bennett walking down the hall on the first floor of the Capitol looking dazed with blood trickling down his forehead. The tall, lanky senator dabbed his forehead as a police officer escorted him in the direction of the infirmary.

Wow, we thought, they really went at it in there! We fantasized that the weekly GOP policy luncheon had devolved into saloon-style mayhem, with the menu of Cod, chicken filet and tough green beans flying every which way. Poor Senator Bennett, he must have gotten whacked by a chair leg, or maybe a Texas or even a Wyoming fist.

"Nothing that exciting," Bennett's spokeswoman, Emily Christensen, told us. Turns out, Bennett, 73, had a fight with a sidewalk instead.

When he left the luncheon and walked outside "he had a confrontation with the sidewalk and the sidewalk won, unfortunately," Christensen said.

Bennett was patched up in the Capitol attending physician's office and was sent on his way "to a busy afternoon of meetings."

In reality, the closed-door luncheon was anything but violent. Bush still managed to have some fun ribbing a couple of Republican senators even while bombing in the power of persuasion department on immigration legislation.

The president gave Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) a hard time about the wildly exorbitant pay package -- $4 million a year - that was recently arranged for the new coach of Shelby's beloved University of Alabama football team, .

"Richard, how's that coach doing?" the president asked, according to sources in the room, one of whom said Bush dryly mentioned how the cushy deal must be costing "a lot of taxpayer money" for the citizens of Alabama (one of the poorest states in the nation).

"He's making a lot of money, more than we're making," Shelby acknowledged. "And I hope he'll produce this fall so we can compete with the University of Texas."

'Course, it could be that Bush's little quip is a remnant of a grudge he might hold against the new coach, NFL hotshot Nick Saban, for dissing Bush by declining his dinner invitation last year because he had to get his Miami Dolphins to training camp early.

Shelby is a huge Crimson Tide football fan. The Senator got both his undergraduate and law degrees from the university.

And even though W failed to convince Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) during the luncheon to support a compromise immigration bill, Bush still promised (or threatened?) to come to Mobile to campaign for him. "I'm still going to your fundraiser," sources quoted Bush as saying inside room. Bush added, "That's OK, we can disagree."

Some Republicans clearly don't envy Sessions. They wondered why Bush even bothered to make a rare live appearance before Senate Republicans to beg them to support his immigration policy, what with his dismallly low approval ratings and having dragged fellow congressional Republicans down with him.

As one Senate GOP leadership aide told the Sleuth, "What is Bush going to do at this point - threaten to come to your state and campaign for you?" (Or worse: campaign for you... and speak Spanish!)

By Mary Ann Akers  |  June 12, 2007; 5:50 PM ET
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