Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took questions from the audience after delivering a speech late last week on how to deal with Iraq and North Korea.
A questioner at the event, sponsored by the Center for Strategic International Studies, asked a long question that ended with the words, "What would you do if you were president?"
"I seldom think about what I'd do as president of the United States," McCain answered.
After a pause in which not a sound could be heard in the room, McCain said, "That was a joke."
The room burst out laughing.
CARRY A HANDKERCHIEF
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is a medical doctor in real life, did his part to allay terrorism fears on Capitol Hill recently by passing out advice from his latest book.
Frist's communications director, Bob Stevenson, walked into the Senate press gallery toting photocopies of Chapter 2 of the senator's book, When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism From the Senate's Only Doctor (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
No less an authority than former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has called the Tennessee Republican's tome "the best advice I have read."
The freely distributed chapter, titled "Safe at Home: A Family Survival Guide," claims that the question of a biological or chemical attack is "no longer a question of if, but when and where and how."
Among the tips offered by Frist:
-- Be the "eyes and ears" of law enforcement in your community, and report any "suspicious activity or behavior" you observe.
-- If you suspect a chemical or biological attack has taken place while outdoors, "don't panic," but get upwind, cover all exposed skin surfaces, and use "a handkerchief to cover your mouth and nose."
-- Choose a person who lives out of state to be your family's contact in case of an emergency. Why? Because "in a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance than to make a local call."
-- Designate a "safe room" in your home, one with a phone and a radio and preferably without windows. But don't pick the basement, because some heavy chemical gases might settle there. A roll of plastic tape would also come in handy.
-- Swimmers goggles and $1 filtered fiber masks could protect the eyes and throat.
-- And if the stress of a terrorist attack starts getting to you, Frist suggests talking with others, returning to a daily routine, turning off cable-TV news and keeping the faith.
"As a medical doctor, I know the healing power of prayer," he writes. "In these difficult times, prayer can help ease anxiety and bring us together."
On a lighter note on Capitol Hill last week, Democratic Rep. Joe Baca of California consumed 47 jalapeno peppers to win the title of "Zestiest Legislator" and bragging rights to take back to his home state.
The contest, in its second year, included congressional delegates from the pepper states of Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah. (This columnist grows some mean peppers in Virginia, which provides some of the finest soil in the nation.)
Baca, 56, dethroned reigning champion and host Rep. Max Sandlin, 51 (D-Texas), who finished a close second with 40 peppers under his belt.
Sandlin, along with a national chili pepper magazine, co-sponsored this year's competition in celebration of the swelling national interest in peppery products.
The Democrats are coming, the Democrats are coming - Democratic presidential wannabes, that is, who are leaving the campaign trail ever so briefly to address the party leadership in Washington.
Always looking to make a buck, the financially depleted Democratic National Committee, we're told, is preparing to peddle an "exclusive video" of the declared 2004 presidential candidates "going head to head": Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Al Sharpton and perhaps Carol Moseley-Braun.
The DNC will sell the video for a "contribution" of $75, which by the way is not tax deductible.
Meanwhile, one part of the Democratic Party's 2004 theme is to recall history - in particular, the Democratic presidents who successfully "fought" for the United States.
Topping the DNC's list is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who "created Social Security and led the country out of the Great Depression"; followed by Harry S. Truman, who "developed the Marshall Plan and helped begin NATO"; John F. Kennedy, who "peacefully resolved the Cuban Missle Crisis and created America's space program and the Peace Corps"; and Lyndon B. Johnson, who "passed the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Great Society programs."
Next came Jimmy Carter, who "negotiated a historic peace accord between Egypt and Israel and passed new environmental protections, including the Superfund program"; and last but not least, Bill Clinton, whose legacy is "sustained fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, big surpluses in the federal government" and a whole lot more we don't have space for.
A key player in the White House's seeking to create a Department of Homeland Security has decided against following his boss into the new agency.
Mark A. Holman, longtime chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, will begin working with the Business Software Alliance to provide strategic counsel and public policy representation on cyber-security issues.
Until recently, Holman was deputy assistant to the president for Homeland Security at the White House Office of Homeland Security. He was previously chief of staff to Ridge during his tenure as both Pennsylvania governor and U.S. representative.
Capitol Hill colleagues of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican, might want to re-check their notes before encroaching on Alaska's wilderness, for the senior senator has had about all he can handle.
"I have been (in the Senate) going on 35 years now, and I have never seen people make statements that are so unfounded and unfactual about things that I am doing," he says. "I am warning the Senate that if members of the Senate accuse me of doing things that are not proper and they are absolutely unfactual, I intend to come here and, on a basis of personal privilege, bring those senators to the floor and demand an apology. This has gone too far."
The latest problems for Stevens began in the closing days of the Clinton presidency, when Alaska at the last minute was added to the administration's so-called roadless rule. This after the Clinton White House telephoned Stevens to assure him that the largest state in the union would not be included in the administration's plan.
As it was, no hearings were held on the proposal, no hearings were held on the implications that such a rule would have on Alaska, and no request to Congress to include Alaska in the roadless area was ever made.
"I have never seen anything more deceitful than the conduct of the Clinton administration in their pursuit of the roadless rule," Stevens says.
The policy the senator wants changed now bars road building and logging on 58.5 million acres of national forest, including Alaska's Tongass, where in 1947 - under the Tongass Act - 1.38 billion board feet of timber was harvested per year.
That level has been eroding since. In 1980, under the Alaska National Interest Lands Act, it was reduced to 450 million board feet per year. In 1997, the Tongass land management plan reduced the level to 267 million board feet annually. By 2001, the harvest level was just 48 million board feet. Needless to say, the Alaskan timber industry has suffered, and thousands of loggers have lost their jobs.
To give it a better perspective, Stevens observes that southeast Alaska alone has more than 18 million acres of forest land, 95 percent of which is national forest. About 850 timber jobs remain there.
Clinton's abandoned home state of Arkansas, by comparison, has 19 million acres of forest land, 8 percent of which is national forest, and 43,000 timber jobs.
Pennsylvania has 17 million acres of forest land, 2 percent of which is in a national forest, and 82,000 timber jobs.
And New York has 19 million acres of forest land, 4 percent of which is national forest, and 51,000 timber jobs.
Last year, while Alaska harvested 34 million board feet, New York harvested nearly 900 million board feet of timber.