"Sherpa" is the nickname given to veteran Washington hands who guide Supreme Court nominees through the political maze of the U.S. Senate - just as the sherpas (the populace living in Nepal and Tibet famous for their mountaineering skills) guide novices through the Himalayas.
Job requirements, The Beltway Beat is told by one well-known former sherpa who worked in the Reagan White House, are an insider's knowledge combined with a reputation for subtle diplomacy.
Previous Washington sherpas have included former Reagan chief of staff and current superlobbyist Kenneth Duberstein (sherpa to Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas), former Nixon aide Tom Korologos (Robert Bork), former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (John G. Roberts Jr.) and former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (Samuel A. Alito Jr.)
And who was the sherpa for the sharp-tongued Justice Antonin Scalia?
Let's just say Scalia chuckles when recalling that his guide through the political minefield was none other than current U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton, President Bush's nominee so assailed by Democratic senators for a purported lack of diplomatic skills that the president was forced to hand Bolton a recess appointment.
St. Martin's Press threw a book party this week for novelist Eric Dezenhall's latest addition to his New Jersey-based damage-control series, this one titled "Turnpike Flameout."
But more intriguingly, in attendance at the book bash -- held in Dezenhall's Connecticut Avenue public relations office - were several Washington VIPs who turn up by name as characters in the book, which centers on a devious spin-control campaign to boost the image of an accused murderer.
Book characters include the American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein, who appears in "Flameout" as a music industry racketeer; psychiatrist and author Sally Satel, who becomes casino shrink "Mustang Sally"; Dezenhall's office colleague, Christian Josi, who actually gets killed in this thriller; and political pundit Rich Galen, a fictional Atlantic City cop hot on the trail of the book's central crime.
"I'm open to make my friends into fictional characters," Dezenhall tells The Beltway Beat, "provided that they're willing to be stunningly immoral."
NOT THE SAVIOR
"No greater folly has been committed by President Bush than his midlife conversion to the notion that America was put on this Earth to advance some 'world democratic revolution' and no non-democrat can be a friend of the United States." - Commentator Pat Buchanan, writing in the Jan. 30 issue of the American Conservative
The Beltway Beat has gotten a peek at the draft agenda for next week's Conservative Members Retreat to be held in Baltimore and featuring Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, columnist George Will, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Chuck Colson.
And yes, count on presentations by the congressional candidates for majority leader and majority whip posts.
Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana - chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, a caucus of more than 100 House conservatives - says that because more than half of the committee's members are confirmed to attend the retreat, it no doubt will become the "No. 1 conservative strategy huddle" of 2006.
Otherwise, he adds, this particular retreat "brings some of the best minds in the conservative movement in America together with conservative leaders in Congress."
"Happy Feast Day of Saint Francis de Sales," Alexandria native and longtime newspaperman Timothy O'Leary wrote to The Beltway Beat earlier this week from his home in Geneva. "I didn't know he was the 'Patron Saint of Journalists.'"
Nor did we, but after reading up on the saint, we can understand why. Although he liked to "party and get into swordfights" (not much has changed), Francis, born in 1567, knew for 13 years of his avocation to the priesthood before he mentioned it to anybody.
"His biggest concern on being ordained was that he had to have his lovely curly gold hair cut off," the Catholic Press Association says. (Imagine, a vain journalist.) But after much inner struggle, Francis took his priestly vows and before long found himself waking up in unusual places. (Not unlike roving correspondents today.)
"He slept in haylofts if he could, but once he slept in a tree to avoid wolves. He tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out and was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down," the association states. "No one would listen to him. No one would even open their door." (Again, not much has changed.)
"So Francis found a way to get under the door," his bio continues. "He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand and slipped them under the doors (the early newspaper, so to speak) to communicate with people.
"Francis was overworked (hear, hear!) and often ill because of his constant load," the church's historians add. "But he had proven with his own life that people could grow in holiness while involved in a very active occupation. His most famous book, 'Introduction to the Devout Life,' became an instant success . . . though some preachers tore it up because he tolerated dancing and jokes." (Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.)
"He believed the worst sin was to judge someone or to gossip about them (our motto, too). He wanted to be a hermit, but he was more in demand than ever. The pope needed him, then a princess (we can relate), then Louis XIII. He died on Dec. 28, 1622, after giving a nun his last word of advice: 'Humility.'"