Foot in Mouth

Posted February 5, 2003 at 6:22pm

Since he’s a nuclear physicist by training, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) can justifiably claim to be a rocket scientist.

But that doesn’t mean he’s a good diplomat, especially based on his embarrassing performance Wednesday at a University of Michigan alumni breakfast on Capitol Hill.

After praising his own alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley,

attendees say that Ehlers clumsily added that Michigan “is becoming” a first-rate university. Talk about a left-handed compliment.

The folks at Michigan are feeling a wee bit defensive these days, perhaps owing to all of the attention their law school has gotten for using race as a factor in admissions. So the comments from Ehlers — which came in front of fellow delegation members such as Rep. John Dingell (D), who has the university in his district — felt like a kick in the stomach.

Ehlers spokesman Jon Brandt tried to clarify the Congressman’s statement, but his comments to HOH may have only exacerbated the situation.

“I think what he was saying is that Michigan isn’t quite up to the level of Cal Berkeley,” said Brandt, who acknowledged that the Congressman’s declaration “got a groan from the audience.” But, Brandt stressed, “He certainly wasn’t denigrating the University of Michigan.” After all, Ehlers’ own son is a professor at the university.

Young Ehlers will undoubtedly get some ribbing at the water cooler when the other professors hear that the Congressman also had some interesting comments about NASA.

When he mentioned the Columbia shuttle disaster at the breakfast, Ehlers told the crowd that he’s proud of the fact that the University of California is the only school that has an alumni chapter on the moon.

In fact, Michigan holds that honor because some astronauts who were proud Wolverines good-naturedly set up a lunar alumni chapter during their space travels. “He misspoke,” Brandt said.

Good thing the university isn’t in Ehlers’ district, though he may have a little trouble if he ever seeks statewide office.

That’s Mister Brown to You. Try to cut some slack to Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) if he feels the need to show off his masculinity in coming weeks.

The Congressman has caught some grief from his staff after a constituent tried to avoid some trouble with the law by telling the police that the lawmaker is his aunt.

“That’s troubling,” Brown told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I just hope this guy has never actually met me and is still confused about my gender.”

The Comeback Kerry? Will the first TV ad for Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign be a pitch for a throat lozenges company?

That was the joke making the rounds after Kerry came down with a case of laryngitis on Saturday at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Richmond, Va. But he soldiered on through a speech to about 1,400 people, the largest J-J crowd in Virginia history.

“If reports of John Kerry’s scratchy throat catch on, maybe we can score a Ricola lozenges endorsement deal,” Kerry spokesman David Wade told HOH. “But if that doesn’t work out, I’m looking on the bright side.”

Wade was referring to the fact that Bill Clinton battled laryngitis throughout his winning presidential campaign in 1992.

“It wasn’t too long ago that Democrats did pretty well running a smart baby boomer with a scratchy voice against a president named Bush who had no economic plan,” he added.

Kerry was also buoyed by an Associated Press story Wednesday revealing that Gerald McEntee, chairman of the AFL-CIO’s political committee and president of one of its largest unions, praised the Senator for being “quite aggressive” on foreign policy.

“If [the Democrats] don’t break the bubble that surrounds President Bush” on foreign policy, “I think they have real trouble. I think they have real difficulty,” he said. “Kerry would have the best chance to do it.”

Wonder how that news was received in the camp of labor-friendly Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Lockhart On the Hill? Could former Clinton White House denizens such as Joe Lockhart or Jake Siewert be headed to Capitol Hill to serve as spokesman for freshman Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)?

Lockhart and Siewert were just two of many Clinton administration alumni who received a blast e-mail searching for candidates to serve as press secretary for the former White House aide who was elected to Congress in November.

“Anybody interested? Jake?” said a note with the e-mail that was sent out by Clinton veteran Matt Bennett, who’s now with Americans for Gun Safety.

Lockhart told HOH that he is “very happy” in the private sector at the Glover Park Group, but he did take a brief look at the job.

“I did talk to Rahm,” he joked. “He thought I was overqualified, but they’ll keep my resume on file.”

Those resumes are being handled by yet another former Clinton White House spokesman, Barry Toiv, who is temporarily helping Emanuel set up the office. This is familiar ground for Toiv, who served as a staffer for then-Rep. Leon Panetta (D-Calif.) before joining the Budget chairman in the Clinton administration.

Give ’Em Zell. So much for any thought that retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) might ride off into the sunset quietly.

In a biting letter to the editor published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Miller went off on a story that suggested CBS may give up its search for an Appalachian mountain family for a new reality show based on the old “Beverly Hillbillies” program.

“Seems they are having a hard time finding the family they had in mind: toothless illiterates with hookworms and an old man who has impregnated his barefoot teenage daughter,” wrote Miller.

“My bet is that these hoity-toity media moguls won’t give up that easily,” he added. “They’re dying for a new ‘Cracker comedy,’ and with their nose in the air, they will keep searching.”

In case you’re wondering, Miller is not a fan of network bosses or reality shows.

“After all,” he concluded, “they are certain that Appalachia is even more backward than the rest of the South, and making viewers feel they are superior is certainly as good a ratings grab as a washed-up ‘Celebrity Mole’ in Hawaii or a fake ‘Joe Millionaire’ in France.”