McCaslins Scrapbook: Intrepid reporters

Posted: Mar 07, 2001 12:00 AM
Reporters covering Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson are being asked to add organ-donor transplant cards to their chain of press credentials. Mindful of the 70,000 people who desperately need organ transplants, Thompson isn't shy about recruiting scribes. "One of my problems is . . . how to get more people like you to sign a donor card," he told a roomful of reporters at the National Institutes of Health. "I think every one of you in here should sign a donor card before you leave." Reporters laughed nervously, while a few volunteered they already had donor cards. "Congratulations," Thompson said. "I don't want you to die in order to exercise it, but I'm very happy. Now turn to your neighbor and ask them to be a donor." THE OTHER DUBYA Moments before the earth shook in Olympia, Washington State finally passed a resolution honoring George W. Bush. Not the George W. Bush in Washington, D.C., but black pioneer George W. Bush, who helped settle Washington state more than a century ago. "George W. Bush is the name of two remarkable people," said state Sen. Dan Swecker, sponsor of the resolution. Bush joined his wife, children and other families to travel along the Oregon Trail from Missouri in 1844. Upon reaching the Dalles, an advance party learned that the Oregon Territory had enacted a black-exclusion law, under which blacks were excluded from Oregon "under pain of whipping." Upon hearing this news, Bush took his family north of the Columbia River and settled in the Puget Sound region that became known as Bush Prairie. Bush's son, William Owen Bush, was a member of the first state Constitutional Convention, and was later elected to the first state Legislature. "Everybody was fascinated by the story," Jim Troyer, chief of staff for Senate Republicans, tells this column. "Lifelong residents of Washington were not even aware of George W. Bush." HILLARY HOOTS Good grief, were we ever inundated with mail after writing about the "Funniest Woman on Capitol Hill" contest, which already has an apparent winner. The Marshalls' Women in Comedy Festival and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have asked female lawmakers to recite their best political jokes, each quip matched by a $1,000 donation to a local women's shelter. Political comedienne Paula Poundstone will judge the jokes and crown the winner this Thursday (March 8). However, our readers can't wait that long. "My nomination has to go to former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton," writes Anthony Phelps. "She just cracks me up. Her deadpan delivery while delivering such hoots as, 'I had no idea my brother was talking to my husband,' or 'I thought everybody took the silverware, that's what we do in Arkansas,' shows good timing, excellent delivery and the necessary ingredient in all good humor -- irony." GREEN AFTER ALL Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman has issued one of her first memos to EPA staff, seeking to allay fears about President Bush's commitment to the environment. Prior to departing for Trieste, Italy, for the Group of Eight Environmental Ministerial Meeting, Whitman shared her thoughts on Bush's budget request, which calls for $7.3 billion in EPA funding - an increase of $56 million over last year's budget request, yet still below last year's budget. "Although the request is below last year's enacted budget, that largely reflects the elimination of unrequested earmarks added in last year by Congress," Whitman explains. She says EPA's core operating programs are funded "at the second-highest level in history -$3.7 billion." To emphasize the administration's pledge to the environment, Whitman this week decided to leave in place a March 19, 2001, effective date for the new rule on diesel fuel, to help reduce emissions from large trucks and buses. As for rumors of EPA layoffs, Whitman says Bush's new budget "caps" the agency at its current work-force level "and will result in a reduction in our ceiling. But I want to assure you that there will not be any layoffs in EPA staff as a result of this budget." BRENDA GROWS UP Television pioneer Art Linkletter, who keeps busy as national spokesman for United Seniors Association (USA), was in Washington late last week to testify before Congress on Medicare and to tape ads for USA's $2 million campaign in support of President Bush's tax-cut proposal. And his visit wasn't without emotion, according to Diana L. Banister, vice president of the public relations firm Craig Shirley & Associates. Linkletter, she reveals, "walked into the . . . studio today to find at the reception desk one of the kids who was on his show 'House Party' 46 years ago. Her name was Brenda Woods and she was on the show in 1955 when she was 5 years old. She nearly broke down in tears when she saw Linkletter." Linkletter also had a full day of Capitol Hill meetings with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, among other lawmakers, garnering support for the USA ad campaign. PARDON ME The latest joke on Capitol Hill is that Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), whose Government Oversight Committee is conducting hearings into former President Clinton's controversial pardons, has issued a memo to staff in the event Clinton is called to testify before the committee. If a committee staffer accidentally bumps into Clinton as he makes his way through the committee room, the fictitious memo reads, the proper response should be, "Pardon me." BUY LOW As the U.S. economy continues to head south, everybody is turning to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for stock market advice. Congressmen included. Greenspan made it clear at the start of his recent testimony before the House Budget Committee that "if I may, I would like to eschew giving personal opinions." To which the chairman of the hearing, Iowa Republican Rep. Jim Nussle, agreed. But that didn't stop Rep. James P. Moran (D-VA), just seconds before Nussle sounded the gavel to end the hearing, from trying one last time. "We all are interested to know," Moran informed the Fed chairman, "whether you think the 'irrational exuberance' of the stock market has been pretty much squeezed out. But, I guess, unless you want to volunteer an answer, we thank you very much." BOOGERS AND HANKS So, Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, Georgia Democrat, how do you really feel about President George W. Bush's tax plan? "The numbers don't add up," she writes in a news release, "and I know there's boogers and hanks in them details." "Boogers and hanks?" Reached for interpretation in Georgia, Jocco Baccus, the congresswoman's spokesman, explains: "You know, smoke and mirrors." Are we the only ones who didn't know that? "More of the folks from the North were wondering what it means," he says. "Southern folks knew exactly what it meant." WHY FARGO? "In a 50-50 Senate, there's no such thing as a small populated state." - White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, explaining why President Bush is scheduled to overnight in the remote city of Fargo, N.D., in his campaign to win support for his tax-cut proposal. BLACK PROPS Speaking of tax cuts, Republican leaders of the Maryland state Senate have written to President Bush, offering full support and encouragement on passage of his $1.6 trillion tax-relief package. This on the heels of Maryland Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening saying, "If I see one more picture of Bush reaching down and patting little black kids on the head, I'm going to go absolutely crazy, because the policies he's proposing are anathema to African-Americans." Maryland Republicans disagree. "In these unprecedented times of historical federal budget surpluses, the American people, and particularly the citizens of Maryland, have earned the right to receive their fair share of this money back in their own bank accounts, rather than letting it stay in Washington," the GOP lawmakers write the president. Glendening and Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, meanwhile, "have proposed a $21.3 billion budget that busts all fiscal-restraint caps and spends the state's $375 million surplus and $557 million in reserve funds. Thus, tax relief on the state level in Maryland is not hopeful," say the lawmakers. "We . . . are alarmed and concerned that Marylanders' chances to see any tax relief at the state level are dissipating by the day." As for Glendening's insinuating that black children are being used as props by the president, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the president "is going to continue to do what he's been doing - and he made it crystal clear in his inaugural address and in every day that he governs - which is to bring this nation together, to continue his efforts to reach out."