Beltway Beat: It ain't easy

John McCaslin
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Posted: Apr 19, 2002 12:00 AM
We've just finished reading what's being dubbed "the first book" on the secretary of defense - "The Rumsfeld Way," by Jeffrey A. Krames (McGraw-Hill Trade, $18.95), scheduled for release May 1. The publisher notes that Donald H. Rumsfeld's celebrated Pentagon press briefings, clear thinking, no-nonsense demeanor and take-no-prisoners style (except for those sunning themselves at Guantanamo Bay) have elevated him to "almost pop culture status, yet it is the substance of his leadership, honed in a myriad of positions, that has captured the public's imagination." We'll allow one of the Pentagon boss' quotes, culled from "The Rumsfeld Way," to speak for itself: "I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned. I'm inclined to think that if you're going to cock it, you throw it, and you don't talk about it a lot. So my instinct is that what you do, you should go about your business and do what you think you have to do. I think anyone who thinks it's easy is wrong." CAPITAL COMLEX A Washington newspaper columnist was surprised Wednesday when Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., rather than waiting for an elevator reserved at all times for senators, climbed aboard the press elevator that lifts scribes to the third-floor Senate Press Gallery. Not until the elevator opened onto the third floor - one stop above the Senate floor, where Graham was scheduled to cast a vote - did the senator realize his desired floor button never got pushed. "Sorry about that," the columnist apologized to the senator. "I obviously knew you weren't a reporter." "Why?" asked Graham. "Because of my incoherent speech and stuttering?" PRISON PROM The Federal Bureau of Prisons is seeking a "dance instructor" to teach a variety of beginning and advanced dance classes to the inmate population, starting in Texas. Advertisements for the instructor will be posted on or about April 29 by the General Services Administration. PRISTINE PATCH Congressional Democrats can thank themselves and one of their own presidents - Jimmy Carter - for setting aside a desolate strip of the North Slope of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for potential oil and gas development. Just over 20 years ago, Democrats labeled the lifeless patch of coastal plain - 2,000 acres of a 19-million-acre ANWR reserve - the "1002 Area." In other words, it was given a number. Now, as push comes to shove, the barren strip of Arctic land is being referred to as "pristine" wilderness, a grazing ground for caribou and other newly discovered animals that would be threatened by man's encroachment. "It shows what special interest groups have spent millions to cover up," Interior Department spokesman Mark Pfeifle says. "The far North Slope was set aside in 1980 by Jimmy Carter and a Democratically controlled Congress for potential oil and gas development." The Democrat in charge of such matters today, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, has for the time being blocked a Senate vote on a House-passed Energy bill that would open up ANWR for oil exploration. CONGRESSIONAL PACES Once was the time when Capitol Hill lawmakers settled disputes by mounting their horses and galloping up Bladensburg Road past the Maryland state line for a good old-fashioned duel. This fine tradition was prohibited by Congress in 1839, but not before Rep. William Graves, Kentucky Whig, blasted the last breath from Rep. Jonathan Cilley, D-Maine. It took three shots at a distance of 100 paces "to kill that damned Yankee," remarked a fellow congressman who witnessed the duel. In fact, the now-historic "dark and bloody" dueling ground saw 25 such duels. Lawmakers were not always the targets. The most notorious showdown was in 1820, when - at a mere eight paces - Commodore Stephen A. Decatur, hero of the War of 1812, was mortally wounded by James Barron. Now, fast-forward to this week, where tempers on Capitol Hill are rising like the thermometer. Much of the rage surrounds proposed oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a bitterly cold and barren place - or so Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alas., has been trying to explain to hard-of-hearing Democrats. "The difficulty is that people say it's wilderness," Stevens reiterated on the Senate floor. "This area - the ANWR coastal plain - is not wilderness. You read the Wilderness Society publications, you would think we were invading the most pristine place on Earth. It is hell in the wintertime - 60 below. I took the postmaster general through it once and the digital thermometer said minus 99 because of the wind-chill factor." The Democrats who oppose exploration refused to listen. Suddenly, the ghost of the Kentucky Whig himself consumed Stevens. "It is not wilderness," the Alaska senator shouted. "Anyone that comes to this floor and says this is drilling in wilderness is a liar, a liar. Anyone that tries to pretend that somehow we're violating the law is a liar. I challenge them - if it was back in the days, I would challenge them to a duel." TOP BILLING The Democratic activist who registers the most new voters during the next week will be presented by Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe with two free tickets to a star-studded concert Wednesday (April 24) at the Apollo Theater in New York. Not just any concert, McAuliffe tells us, but a "once-in-a-lifetime" show, featuring Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, K.D. Lang and last, but never least, the smokin' saxophone-playing Bill Clinton. Clinton, if you've forgotten, is an accomplished musician who sat first chair on tenor saxophone in his Arkansas school band and went on to win all-state band honors. One of his favorite songs to play these days: "I Feel Good" by James Brown. The Apollo concert kicks off the Democrats' "Every Vote Counts" campaign, a nationwide voter registration, education and mobilization effort aimed at attracting a record number of Democratic voters this November and again in 2004, when a yet-to-be-determined Democrat will try to unseat President Bush. "BEAM ME UP" Phones have been ringing off the hook in the Capitol Hill office of Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., the nine-term Democrat (by title, at least) from Ohio who was convicted last week of racketeering and tax evasion. "There have been calls from all over the country," says Charlie Straub, Traficant's spokesman, explaining that the congressman over the years has become a favorite in American living rooms for his entertaining if not informative one-minute speeches on the House floor. "And some members of Congress have called to wish him well also," says Straub. Republicans, no doubt. As for members of his own party, they reportedly have threatened this week to expel Traficant should he show his face on the House floor. Figuring he's had enough visibility for one week, the Democrat decided to stay put in Ohio. "The congressman has contacted all of his offices, and he's keeping an eye on the bills and other activity up here," says Straub. "With each day, we're getting further back to normal. We certainly have the staff in place." Traficant will need them. He plans to appeal his conviction (he faces 63 years in jail, but under federal guidelines the amount would likely be reduced) before a scheduled sentencing court date on June 27. "We're certainly hoping for some relief from the verdict," says Straub, although he is the first to admit it's only one of several hurdles. "Right now, we're preparing for the House ethics committee," he says, referring to the congressional investigative arm conducting its own probe of the embattled lawmaker. And after the dust settles? "The congressman plans to run this fall as an independent," Straub says. "There's a lot of fight left in Jim Traficant." Suffice it to say, when it comes to personalities in the U.S. Capitol, nobody can ever fill the shoes of Traficant. Our all-time favorite "Traficant story," as we've come to call them, appeared in this column in 1993, after a now well-known Northern Virginia wife - Lorena Bobbitt - chopped off part of her husband with a carving knife. We had noticed that on the bottom of a "Dear Colleague" letter inviting fellow lawmakers to co-sponsor legislation to establish a toll-free phone number for information on products made in America, Traficant scribbled a note: "I don't want to be forced to send that woman from Manassas to your offices!!" Wouldn't you know, before the day was through, more than 180 obviously concerned co-sponsors - the majority of them men - put their support behind Traficant's bill.