In what could be a Capitol Hill first, a lawmaker last week attempted to cast a vote of "not present."
The moment straight out of Lewis Carroll came during Wednesday's markup of a U.N. reform bill in the House International Relations Committee. The bill calls on the administration to get tough over a multitude of misdeeds and scandals coming out of Turtle Bay, and members of both parties took politically popular potshots at the world body during the debate.
But then Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, principled libertarian and chronic skunk at congressional garden parties, offered an "American sovereignty restoration" amendment calling for the United States to pull out of the United Nations altogether. Mr. Paul noted, correctly, that the case for his amendment had just been made by all the negative comments his colleagues had been airing for the previous two hours.
Democrats, sensing the politically embarrassing nature of the amendment, immediately demanded a roll-call vote, requiring their Republican colleagues to go on record in support of U.S. membership in the blue helmet/black helicopter society.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, was absent when the clerk first called his name for the Paul amendment. But, perhaps mistiming his return to the committee room, Mr. Rohrabacher took his seat before the voting had officially closed.
His lips pressed firmly together, Mr. Rohrabacher only smiled and waved his hand when the clerk asked for his vote. "Present?" she helpfully asked, to which Mr. Rohrabacher simply shook his head, plainly hoping the clerk would just pass him by.
The performance elicited a few mocking chicken clucks from committee Democrats. In the end, the California Republican was recorded as voting "present" on the Paul amendment.
For the record, the amendment was rejected on a 39-3 (one present) vote, with just South Carolina Republican Reps. Joe Wilson and J. Gresham Barrett siding with the Texan.
Be careful what you promise.
Just ask Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, who last November in ousting Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle became the first challenger to defeat a Senate leader in more than a half-century.
Mr. Thune promised the voters of his state that if they helped him make history by ousting the Democrat, he would see to it that Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota remain open. Wouldn't you know, Ellsworth is on the list of scheduled base closures.
Needless to say, Mr. Thune isn't happy. And as Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) notes, he is now "doing everything short of writing to Santa Claus to derail the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process."
This includes introducing legislation to delay BRAC indefinitely, threatening litigation against the Pentagon, and maybe changing his position on unrelated votes to "punish" the Bush administration.
"Sen. Thune is understandably embarrassed after promising during his Senate campaign that if he won, the White House would not close bases in South Dakota," CAGW states. "But BRAC is designed to exclude such political favoritism, and taxpayers should not be forced to fund unnecessary bases just to satisfy one senator's campaign promise."
In light of Mr. Thune's threats, and considering this latest round of base closures would save taxpayers almost $50 billion over the next 20 years, CAGW has crowned him its "Porker of the Month."
Blue vs. olive
Air Force officers, past and present, have replied in force to our item last week about being mistaken for mailmen and bus drivers because of the similarity of their blue uniforms.
"Let it be known that as a retired member of the USAF (1983-2004), we are still not happy about our uniforms," writes William Mayes. "At least they did get rid of the bus driver hat."
The Air Force blues could be worse, said John Rieman, considering what the other branches of the military sport.
"OK, here's a choice of going-to-work military clothes: olive-ugly drab, don't-sit-on-a-dirty-chair white, or my-favorite-color blue. Throw in fatigues. Blue is the winner. I never got the chance to knock around an old lady buying stamps, but I was kiddingly accused of driving a bus. Back then bus drivers were OK guys."
And they still are, of course.
Another Air Force insider, who asks not to be identified, took the opportunity to poke fun at the Army -- not their uniforms, but what's upstairs. He recalls his Air Force JAG (Judge Advocate General) division sharing building space in Washington with several Army units.
"One Air Force captain (who you know, but should remain nameless) and his crazy boss (who will remain nameless) made a habit of picking on some of the Army guys who were, to be kind, a little slow on the uptake," he tells Inside the Beltway.
"On one memorable day, said captain and his boss, the major, were followed into an elevator car by an Army colonel. We tapped '7' to head for our office. The Army guy tapped '8.' The light on the button didn't come on, so he kept tapping the '8.'
"Again, again, and again, he tapped the button, and it didn't light up. Someone, who shall remain unidentified, leaned over and said, 'Hit 5 and 3, sir.' And he did." When the Army colonel realized he'd been had, his reply was unprintable.
John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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