No Ordinary Joe

Posted June 27, 2003 at 6:36pm

The somber occasion of former Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) death produced a tiny bit of humor Thursday night, when ex-Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) made a little gaffe during MSNBC’s live coverage of the legend’s passing.

Though he bills himself as a well-informed observer of the political scene on his cable show “Scarborough Country,” the former Congressman gave viewers the impression that Thurmond was still serving in the Senate at the time of his death.

At about 10:45 p.m. on Thursday, Scarborough hurriedly announced that The Associated Press had confirmed Thurmond’s death. Then he quickly moved to a live phone interview with Van Hipp, the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.

“Who’s going to replace Strom Thurmond in the United States Senate?” asked Scarborough. “Obviously, that’s a very, very important question. Not just for political reasons, but because the United States Senate is so closely split. Do you have the names of people who have been mentioned in the past few weeks?”

The host seemed at least momentarily unaware that Thurmond retired at the end of the last Congress and was replaced by now-Sen. Lindsey Graham (R).

“I got a kick out of that,” Hipp told HOH with a laugh Friday morning. The Thurmond pal had been driving home from his son’s baseball game when he got the call from MSNBC, so he was doing the interview on the side of a road in Virginia.

“When he asked, ‘Who will the governor appoint?’ I said to myself, ‘I’m glad I’m on the phone and not in the studio because I would be laughing. Am I in a dream?’”

Hipp found a diplomatic way to correct him. “Lindsey Graham is doing a great job of filling Strom Thurmond’s shoes,” he told Scarborough.

“It was a classic moment,” a good-natured Scarborough told HOH. “I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t know what descended upon me. The thing I remember about it, other than the fact that I’m an idiot, is Van’s attempt to be gracious and defuse the whole bomb.”

Scarborough, who joined Graham as one of the House rebels constantly prodding then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) back in the day, said of course he knows his old colleague. “I helped throw a fundraiser for him,” he said of the Senate campaign, which came before Scarborough was hired as a talk-show host.

Hipp thought a little comic relief surrounding Thurmond’s death was not such a bad thing. “Thurmond himself was a humorous guy,” he said.

The mishap is all the more funny because Scarborough sometimes sounds a little bit like a know-it-all on his show. After former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) got tripped up by tough questions on “Meet the Press,” Scarborough cracked, “If Dean wants to have any chance of getting into the White House, he needs to learn some basic facts about our country.”

Scarborough said there are a couple of differences. “The governor’s running for president,” he said. “Second, two seconds into Van’s statement I knew I made a mistake. Howard Dean still doesn’t know the answer to the question about the number of troops in the military.”

You Can’t Be Serious. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), whose troubles were exacerbated when he offended Jewish Americans with some intemperate remarks he made earlier this year, has landed in hot water again.

Moran decided not to vote on a bipartisan resolution “condemning the terrorism inflicted on Israel since the Aqaba Summit and expressing solidarity with the Israeli people in their fight against terrorism.”

The resolution received 399 yeas, five nays and saw seven Members vote “present.” Moran was one of 23 Members who did not vote, but he does not have the excuse of being out of town or out of pocket.

The Israel vote occurred at 6:23 p.m. Wednesday. Just nine minutes earlier, Moran voted aye on a resolution “calling on the Government of the People’s Republic of China immediately and unconditionally to release Dr. Yang Jianli.”

Moran’s office declined to comment.

Dan the Man. The word in the Senate is that Dan Gerstein, longtime communications director to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), is formally moving over to the presidential campaign.

Gerstein had a celebratory dinner with friends on Friday, which was his last official day in the Senate.

He’s expected to land the title of deputy communications director for the campaign, where he will be focused on media strategy and planning.

Clinton vs. Daschle? It’s not just National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) who thinks Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is plotting to become the next Majority Leader.

Just days after Allen sent out a fundraising letter claiming (with no actual evidence) that Clinton wants to be Majority Leader, The New York Post claimed last week that “there is growing interest” among Democratic Senators and aides to see Clinton replace Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) if he retires next year.

Besides the fact that Daschle insists he’s raising $10 million to run for re-election, Clinton herself flatly told HOH two weeks ago that she’s not running for the leadership post.

“No way,” she said, laughing as she finally got a chance to answer a non-presidential-themed question about the future. “I’m closing the door.”

Her office followed up Friday with another attempt to shut the door. “Senator Clinton thinks that Tom Daschle is doing a great job as leader, and has no interest,” said Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines.

Grucci’s Back? Ex-Rep. Felix Grucci (R), who has returned to New York to tend to his family’s fireworks business, will be spending the July Fourth holiday weekend in Nebraska mulling whether to launch a Congressional comeback.

Grucci bid on the contract for the massive fireworks show on the National Mall but didn’t get it, so he’s planning instead to be in the Midwest for the display his company will be producing for the Omaha World Herald’s annual program.

“I’ll be with my wife in the Congressional district of my good friend Lee Terry,” Grucci told HOH, adding that his family’s 130-year-old company will be handling about 100 shows from New York to Hawaii over the weekend.

Grucci, who was bumped out of office by now-Rep. Tim Bishop (D), said he has no lingering hard feelings or regrets about the race. He loved the job so much that he’s thinking about running again.

“I miss it,” Grucci said. “Being a Member of Congress was the greatest honor that the people of Long Island gave me in my life.”

When pressed on a possible comeback, he replied, “It’s too early to say. I’m still looking at all of the options.”

But he added that returning to public service “may be serving my local community in some capacity” other than running for the House.