Notebooks and hoods

John McCaslin
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Posted: Oct 11, 2002 12:00 AM
Congressional correspondents have unwittingly joined the ranks of war correspondents with the front lines of the war on terrorism virtually drawn across the hallowed ground of the U.S. Capitol. "There will be 'escape hood' training sessions for members of the media on Friday, Oct. 11, and on Wednesday, Oct. 16, in the Senate Press Gallery," the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms informed reporters by memo. "All members of the Congressional Press Galleries are encouraged to attend." One year after deadly anthrax spores were released in Washington, U.S. Capitol Police have deployed thousands of "escape hoods" - protective headgear that allows breathing uncontaminated air - in the congressional galleries to assist with the evacuation of elected members, their staffs, reporters and tourists in the event of future biological or chemical terrorist attacks. STROLL THROUGH ROME Historic and strategic battles fought long ago around the world are being recalled during congressional debate over a resolution to authorize U.S. military action against Iraq. Take the dialogue between Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) - the former in favor of granting President Bush the option of deploying U.S. troops in Iraq, the latter opposed. "I remember when you took me, hand in hand, to Rome and we went to the very site of the Roman Senate. Do you remember that day?" Warner asked a rather puzzled Byrd. "You stood there, amidst the falling rubble of that historic building. What was the quote of a Frenchman who said: 'Oh, tell me in which direction the crowd is surging so I can run out and get in front and lead.' Do you remember that quote?" Considered the Senate's student of history, Byrd replied: "No, but I remember Caesar, when he saw one of the Roman soldiers running away from the battle, he took that Roman soldier and turned him around. He said, 'You are running in the wrong direction.'" A BROTHER'S GIFT There is one reason, more than any other, that Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has been pushing an election-reform bill that, among other measures, mandates voting equipment to allow blind people to cast ballots privately and independently. "I have a sister who has been blind since birth," Dodd revealed. "She is a teacher. I am very proud of her. She is a remarkable woman. I would like to know that my sister, as she reaches retirement age as a teacher, will, as a result of her brother's work on a bill, be able to cast a ballot without having to rely on someone telling her how to vote." Except in Rhode Island, there are currently no ballots written in braille. ALL TOGETHER NOW "Here's an important announcement from the administrator," says our insider at the Environmental Protection Agency, forwarding an Oct. 8 staff memorandum that left bureaucrats in his office puzzled, if not laughing. "Administrator Christie Whitman has proclaimed Oct. 18, 2002, as National Water Monitoring Day to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act. We are encouraging everyone to monitor the water." CHANNEL TO GOD The assistant Senate Republican leader, Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, says he'll never forget the night he and soon-to-retire Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina prayed together - to prevent a tax from being imposed on Americans. Rising at a recent tribute to thank Helms for his 30 years of service to the Senate and the country, Nickles recalled the seemingly endless 1982 debate in Congress over a proposed gasoline tax. Most of those in the Senate were in favor of the 5-cent-per-gallon tax increase, including fellow Republicans like then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee. "But we were sort of opposed to it, thinking that it should be left to the prerogative of the states," Nickles reminded Helms. "It was a difficult time because it was right before Christmas and (there was) a pretty protracted, extended debate, one that required (sleeping on) cots in the back. Our colleagues' tempers were kind of short because we were getting close to the holiday season. Most everybody wanted to vote and get out of here. "And I remember going into your office one night," Nickles continued, "and it was kind of difficult and we talked about it. You said, 'Well, I have an idea. We'll just pray about it. Let's call Rev. Billy Graham.' I was awestruck. 'We're calling Rev. Billy Graham?'" And so Helms picked up the phone, called Rev. Graham and together the renowned preacher and the two senators prayed. God, it turned out, was in favor of a gasoline tax. In fact, He wanted much more than a nickel increase for Earth's hydrocarbon mixture. So, amid members' growing impatience to go home for the holidays, the Senate late on the night of Dec. 21 agreed to a 9-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, to be imposed from 1983 to 1988. SOBERING ACT Look for fewer drunk people arriving in the United States, as the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday passed the Sober Borders Act. Introduced by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) the Sober Borders Act would close a loophole that actually prevents Immigration and Naturalization Service officials from detaining drunk drivers coming into the country. In 2000, a 20-year-old college student, returning from a night of hard drinking in Mexico, killed a California highway patrolman. "It's not right that the agency charged with protecting our borders is powerless to stop drivers who are drunk," says Flake. "This is common-sense legislation that will save lives, and I hope Congress moves quickly to pass it." Flake, who is serving his first term in Congress, expects the full House to take up the bill before it adjourns for the year. LIVING HISTORY Senators aren't kidding when they say the Senate won't be the same without Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who is set to retire this year - but not before first turning 100. Consider the sheer breadth of his experience, as observed by one fellow senator: Born on Dec. 5, 1902, Thurmond served South Carolina as a state senator, circuit court judge, governor and U.S. senator. When the Army told him he was too old to fight in World War II, he obtained an age waiver and landed with the 82nd Airborne Division in Normandy on D-Day. He voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and George W. Bush in 2000. He ran for president against Harry Truman in 1948 and sat in on Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999. The rest, as they say, is history. And with respect to Thurmond, lots of it.