Bully Pulpit?

Posted May 6, 2003 at 6:38pm

As if he doesn’t have enough trouble, eyewitnesses say Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) got into a nasty battle with the Rev. Michael Dobbins, a Roman Catholic priest, at the Congressman’s parish of Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria, Va., this past Sunday.

A red-faced Moran was spotted after the 9 a.m. Mass exchanging heated words with Dobbins. “Moran was screaming and pointing his finger at him,”

said one parishioner who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He went ballistic.”

“The Congressman was not yelling at Father Dobbins,” Moran spokesman Dan Drummond insisted to HOH. “The Congressman was not the instigator. It was more of a mutual discussion.”

Drummond proceeded to charge that it was “unethical” and possibly “illegal” for Dobbins to use the pulpit to slam Democrats during the Mass. “The priest inappropriately starting talking about how Democrats had abandoned Catholics and how the Republican Party was the party Catholics could rely on,” said Drummond.

Dobbins did not return several phone messages left at the parish Tuesday, but a close friend called HOH to speak on the priest’s behalf. “They are lying,” the friend said of Moran’s account. “That is a flat-out lie.”

In fact, the Rev. Bryan Belli delivered the sermon at Mass, so Dobbins said nothing that could have offended Moran. Drummond later acknowledged that he was mistaken and that Belli did deliver the sermon.

Belli did speak about “life” issues in his sermon but did not make a political speech, according to some parishioners supportive of Dobbins. But Claudia Waller, a parishioner of 35 years who sings in the choir and is friendly with Moran, insisted the sermon was filled with references to Tuesday’s race for mayor of Alexandria.

The controversy centered on the fact that Moran was attending Mass with City Councilman Bill Euille and Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine. The Congressman felt that the comments about issues such as abortion and stem-cell research during the sermon were an unfair attempt to damage Euille, the Democratic candidate for mayor, just two days before the election (Roll Call went to press before the results were finalized).

But the Dobbins friend charged that Moran was merely upset that the parish had rebuffed a request that Euille be recognized by one of the priests during the Mass. The friend argued that it was actually Moran who was inappropriately trying to inject politics into the Mass by trying to round up votes for Euille, who is not Catholic. [IMGCAP(1)]

Regardless of what provided the spark, all sides confirm that Moran and Dobbins mixed it up after Mass. “It was somewhat intense — they were probably two inches apart,” said Waller, who stressed that Moran acted properly. “If anyone had body language that was out of line, it was Dobbins.”

According to the Dobbins friend, the priest responded to Moran’s anger by saying, “How can you reconcile yourself as a Catholic with your views on abortion?”

Moran’s camp agrees this was not a good way to break the ice. “The Congressman responded in kind that he’s not changing his position,” said Drummond.

But the Dobbins friend insists it did not end there. “Moran went off the wall,” he said. “He started screaming at him. The nostrils were flaring. He said, ‘You priests don’t know anything about abortion!’”

“Congressman, put away the talking points,” Dobbins shot back. “Talk to me as your priest.”

Moran allegedly responded that there was “not enough time” for the duo to discuss all of the Congressman’s problems with the church. But with Moran’s woes over the years and all of the speculation about how his career may be over apparently in mind, Dobbins offered a final word.

“Congressman, one day you will need me,” said the priest. “And I will be here.”

Moran fired back that “you priests are close-minded” before other parishioners finally stepped in and tried to calm everyone down. The Congressman has already offended some Jewish voters in his district with recent comments suggesting that the Bush administration waged war in Iraq at the behest of Israel. But Drummond suggested he’s not sweating this clash.

“It was not any sort of remark about the Catholic Church,” Drummond said of Moran’s confrontation with the priest. “I can say as a Catholic, I’m not offended.”

Nethercutt’s Like a Knife. Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.), who’s been leading the charge against French commerce, has decided it’s OK to promote at least one French-inspired product.

Nethercutt was in his home state this past weekend handing out the Jubilee of Liberty medal to U.S. military veterans who participated in Operation Overlord from June 6 to Sept. 15, 1944, but were not able to attend the D-Day 50th anniversary ceremonies in 1994. According to Nethercutt’s own Web site, this terrific medal was “designed in Paris” and was originally minted at the direction of the governor of Normandy, who created the medal to honor Americans.

It’s a strange twist for Nethercutt, who pushed through an amendment last month preventing U.S. taxpayer dollars from being spent to contract with France, Germany, Russia and Syria during the rebuilding of Iraq.

“It occurred to me — in the back of my mind,” Nethercutt spokeswoman April Gentry acknowledged with a laugh. “But here’s the fine print.”

It turns out that the French government quit minting the medal at some point because of financial trouble but authorized others to pick up the slack. “It’s made by a company in the United States. And the cost of the medals is being underwritten by a company in our district,” Gentry said of the Global Credit Union.

The keepsakes were thankfully not named “French Medals,” so there has been no need to call them “Freedom Medals” now. As for whether Nethercutt has a newfound appreciation for French ingenuity, Gentry said, “I don’t think I’ll comment on that.”

Boy Dingell. Debbie Dingell phoned HOH on Tuesday to drop a dime on one of the toughest men in Congress, whom she nonetheless referred to as “my little boy.”

That would be 76-year-old Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who was experiencing a little indigestion over the weekend but didn’t want to go to the doctor. “He thought it was my cooking,” she said. “But the lesson here is that men need to listen to their wives.”

The Congressman finally relented and headed to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the doctors found one small clogged artery. “They put in a stent and he’s in great shape,” said the missus.

In fact, Dingell is vowing to be back on Capitol Hill on Friday so that he can vote against President Bush’s tax-cut plan. But the devout hunter had a more pressing question.

“Can I go shooting this weekend?” he asked. The doctors said yes. The wife said no.

Will the Congressman finally listen to the lady?

Snubbing Hillary? If the Senate delegation from her home state of Illinois is any guide, sales might be brisk only on one side of the aisle for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir coming out next month.

Appearing together at their usual Thursday morning breakfast for constituents visiting D.C., Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin (D) and Peter Fitzgerald (R) were pressed on whether they will each buy Clinton’s book and whether she will run for president in 2004.

“If she doesn’t give me a copy, I’ll definitely buy it,” said Durbin. “As for president, not this time around.”

Fitzgerald never got around to answering the presidential question. And the man who will have plenty of time to read now that he’s retiring seemed to leave the impression that he doesn’t bother picking up tomes written by Democrats.

“About the book, I don’t know if I plan to read it since I’m a Republican,” he said.

The Company He Keeps. Former Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-Calif.), who is serving out his retirement from Congress in the California state Assembly, has hired as his legislative chief of staff a man who is, for all intents and purposes, on the 10 most wanted list of the state agency that regulates campaigns and elections.

According to an article last week in the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Orduna was fined $187,500 in 1991 for campaign violations stemming from his unsuccessful run for the Los Angeles City Council. The California Fair Political Practices Commission levied the fine after Orduna admitted to laundering campaign contributions during his 1987 council campaign.

Orduna, who also served as Dymally’s Congressional chief of staff, declared bankruptcy in January, while he still owed the state commission $139,500. Since 1991, Orduna has made only one voluntary payment of $500 to cover the fine, and the state had been garnishing his wages since 1997.

Dymally, who is also a former California lieutenant governor, has seen another aide gain unwanted scrutiny recently, the Times said. Richard Mayer, a field representative, was found guilty of lying about his residency when he was a candidate for office in South Gate, Calif.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.