- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The fries on Capitol Hill are French again.

So is the breakfast toast in the congressional cafeterias, with both fries and toast having been liberated from the appellation “freedom.”

Three years after House Republicans trumpeted the new names to get back at the French for snubbing the coalition of the willing in Iraq, congressmen don’t even want to talk about french fries, which are actually native to Belgium, and toast.

Neither Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio nor Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, the authors of the culinary rebuke, were willing this week to say who led the retreat, as it were, from the frying pan. But retreat there has been, as a casual observer can see for himself in the House’s basement cafeterias.

“We don’t have a comment for your story,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Ney.

Several Republican staffers and lawmakers suggest that the change isn’t worth investigating, unlike the eagerness in March 2003 to get into the headlines about patriotism on the menu.

Mr. Ney, who was then the chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the cafeterias, gleefully announced the change at the height of anti-French sentiment, when Paris scolded Washington that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was premature.

“This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France,” he said on March 11, 2003.

The Ney spokeswoman, who wasn’t aware Monday that fries and toast had reverted to their original names, observed that Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers of Michigan, the Republican who chairs the House Administration Committee now, “has the right to change the name.”

But Jon Brandt, a spokesman for Mr. Ehlers, doesn’t want to talk about it, either. “Officially the committee has no comment on the matter,” he said. “I really don’t see how this is a story.”

A spokeswoman for the panel’s Democrats said she is unaware of the change, and none of the House staffers are willing to talk about it. A manager in the House’s basement cafeteria said “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” were taken off the menu last week, and referred all calls to the Capitol’s guest services department. The cafeteria in the Longworth Office Building apparently restored french fries in January.

Democrats on the panel did not return calls requesting comment, but other Democrats, who had called the switch in nomenclature “absurd,” are free with the quips.

“Now that they’ve changed the name of the french fries back, maybe they will admit their other foreign policy mistakes were wrong, too,” said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader.

The Senate never made any such changes at its cafeterias.

The change apparently reflects shifting public attitudes. A Pew Global Attitudes survey in June revealed a sharply different opinion of France from the days at the beginning of the war in Iraq. Fifty-two percent of Americans surveyed now have a favorable impression of France, up from 46 percent last year and 29 percent in May 2003. Before the Iraq war, 79 percent of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of France.

The term “freedom fries” actually originated at Cubbies, a restaurant in Beaufort, N.C., which caters to U.S. troops stationed at three nearby military bases. Mr. Jones, whose district includes the bases and the restaurant, circulated a letter to his colleagues seeking to call the spuds “freedom fries” because, he said, the French were “sitting on the sidelines.”

A spokeswoman for the French Embassy noted that her country has been working “very closely” with the United States on the Middle East and that Presidents Bush and Jacques Chirac dined on french fries in February 2005.

“Our relations are definitely much more important than potatoes,” Agnes Vondermuhll said. “French fries are back in the Capitol, back on the presidential dinner menu and our relations are back on track.”