Mr. Roboto Is in the House

Posted July 23, 2003 at 6:24pm

Mr. Roboto Is in the House. In a move that left those of a certain age longing for the days of big hair and “parachute” pants, House Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was spotted Wednesday giving a tour of the Capitol to three members of the 1980s rock band Styx.

Styx, which pumped out such dashboard classics as “Mr. Roboto” and “Babe,” was in town for a joint concert last night at the MCI Center with two other bands from the same bygone era: Journey and REO Speedwagon.

“Congressman Cantor gave the band a tour because ever since he popped in his cassette of ‘Come Sail Away’ and asked Mrs. Cantor to ‘Be his lady,’ his life has been ‘The Best of Times,’” quipped spokesman Rob Collins.

Bo Knows Fistfights. After taking it on the chin from fellow conservatives at Grover Norquist’s weekly policy meeting last week, Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) is now beating back broadsides from ex-New York City cop Bo Dietl.

Dietl, the fast-talking security consultant who’s a zany guest on Don Imus’ radio show, took his act to Capitol Hill Wednesday to appear at a press conference blasting Gutknecht’s bill that would allow reimportation of pharmaceuticals from Canada.

“I’ll fight him anywhere, anytime he wants,” Dietl chortled. “I call him a liar. Print that!

“And if he has a problem with that, I’ll debate him anywhere,” Dietl said, including “in the parking lot back here.”

Dietl disputed a claim that Gutknecht backers made in a “Dear Colleague” letter that the bill would not permit a wave of counterfeit drugs to invade the United States.

“I’m calling [Gutknecht] a liar,” Dietl said. “Make that liar with a capital ‘L.’”

Dietl claimed that an investigation by his firm found some drugs ostensibly ordered over the Web from Canada were actually traced to Pakistan and the Caribbean. “It’s not just cheap drugs, it’s a safety issue,” he said.

Dietl, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1986, also ruled out another bid at office. “I would not run for dogcatcher,” he said. “I’d rather be a person who talks the way I talk and do what I’ve got to do. If anybody I called a liar would like to debate me or like to put a lawsuit on me, I challenge it.”

Gutknecht spokesman Bryan Anderson questioned Dietl’s credentials as an alleged expert on the issue and said his boss isn’t going to bother responding to the former detective.

“Anybody on the street corner can make some sort of claim,” Anderson said. “That’s his right to comment on the issue. But beyond that, there’s no necessity to dignify his remarks” with a response.

Stark Raving Mad. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), who helped pour gasoline on last week’s Ways and Means fracas with some outlandish statements, is locked in yet another battle with his GOP colleagues.

Stark’s mouth has already gotten him in trouble, starting with the time he called Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) a “whore” for the insurance industry several years ago. And he nearly sparked fistfights by once alleging that then-Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) had several illegitimate children and then calling Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) a “fruitcake” last week.

But now Stark’s pen has raised red flags. He crafted a parody of a pharmaceutical industry ad, which has run in newspapers such as Roll Call, claiming the drug reimportation legislation will expose Americans to unsafe drugs. The original ad shows two indistinguishable pills and asks which one is unsafe.

Stark’s “Dear Colleague” letter showed a photo of lawmakers on the House floor and cracked, “Which Republican hasn’t been tampered with?” That parody made it through the handlers at First Call, the office which distributes “Dear Colleague” letters.

But then Stark crafted a second “Dear Colleague” showing a photo of a doughnut and claimed, “100 percent of seniors get a hole in their drug benefit, but 0 percent of the drug industry will have a hole in their profits.” The ad also changed the name of PhRMA to the “Privatization and Republican Medicine Association.”

The second letter was bounced back to Stark and an official at First Call, which is run by the Chief Administrative Officer, informed the Congressman’s office, “We’ve been told to hold Stark ‘Dear Colleagues’ like this.”

A Stark aide told HOH that was unfair. “No one yet has given us written rules suggesting this is outside the bounds of Member-to-Member communication,” the staffer said. “They are clear parodies that make a point.”

But Brian Walsh, majority spokesman for the House Administration Committee, which oversees the CAO’s office, noted that both Democrats and Republicans on the panel decided that Stark’s second letter was inappropriate.

“Under Committee rules, official resources, including the distribution of official documents, are not to be used for partisan, political purposes,” Walsh told HOH. “Congressman Stark’s ‘Dear Colleague’ was reviewed by both the majority and minority of the Committee and a bipartisan decision was made that this particular letter crossed that threshold and should not be distributed using official House resources.”

Political Dirty Tricks? Just hours before House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) tearfully apologized Wednesday for calling the Capitol Police to quell last week’s fracas, a new controversy was brewing between staffers of the powerful committee.

GOP committee aides charged that Tim Reif, the Democratic aide who handles trade issues for the panel, snuck into a GOP Conference meeting to spy on the enemy.

Democrats insisted that it was an honest mistake. They added that staffers accidentally drop into each other’s caucus meetings all the time and that Republicans blew Wednesday’s mistake out of proportion.

But Republicans charged that Reif sat in on the private GOP strategy meeting for about 10 minutes and had to know he was in the wrong room because Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was speaking. “He’s not an intern, for God’s sake,” cracked one GOP aide.

Republicans said Reif listened in on DeLay’s private comments until Thomas’ staffers spotted their Democratic colleague. “When he saw that we noticed him, he walked out quickly,” claimed the GOP aide.

Dan Maffei, Democratic spokesman for Ways and Means, insisted to HOH that it was “totally implausible” that the trade policy wonk was on a reconnaissance mission. “If we were going to send in a spy, it wouldn’t be Tim Reif,” he insisted.

Maffei added that Republicans were grossly exaggerating the length of time Reif spent in the room, insisting that it was no more than a minute.

“He saw DeLay and realized he was in the wrong place,” said Maffei. “It’s bizarre that the Republicans are so paranoid that they think we would send a spy in the Caucus meeting.”

DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy shot back that Reif “was trying out for the part of James Bond but he ended up acting more like Inspector Clouseau. This is one of the dumbest political acts since Pete Stark tried out his new vocabulary at Ways and Means.”

Don’t Try This At Home. Freshman Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) was rushed to the hospital Wednesday after his car collided with one of the barriers guarding access to the Capitol’s House-side parking area.

Sullivan suffered only minor injuries, but his BMW was not so lucky. “It tore the front bumper off and the airbags deployed,” said Sullivan spokesman Jay Wiley.

One source familiar with the accident claimed that Sullivan was rushing to make a vote on the House floor. The commotion concerned a police officer, who apparently raised the barrier just to make sure that a stranger was not seeking access to the Capitol grounds.

Wiley, however, told HOH that “my understanding is that there was some sort of electronic malfunction” of the barrier.

Police officials, meanwhile, say they’re investigating the matter.

Snyder’s Walk Down the Aisle. Colleagues have been congratulating Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), who was married on July 6 to the Rev. Betsy Singleton.

They were married before friends and family at the Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church, where Singleton serves as pastor in Little Rock, Ark.

Singleton began the service in her white clerical robe. Then before the sermon, she joined Snyder in the front pew wearing a “pale green suit with a lace camisole and a flared skirt,” according to his office. The ceremony took place after the regular Sunday worship, with the Rev. Michael Mattox presiding.

Wishful Thinking? Besides insisting to HOH that he didn’t fall asleep during Blair’s speech to a joint session last week, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is also denying speculation that his cell phone currently rings to the tune of “Hail to the Chief.”

Kucinich spokesman Doug Gordon said the phone actually spits out the “Washington Post March,” the 19th century tune written by John Philip Sousa.

“It’s a patriotic song,” Gordon told HOH. “‘Hail to the Chief’ doesn’t come until January 2005.”

In order to meet that goal, Kucinich is now rolling out a “Seabiscuit” campaign to win the White House as the movie opens in theaters across the country. The Congressman and his allies will be distributing leaflets saying “Seabiscuit Proves Long Shots Win!” as moviegoers exit theaters.

“The movie tells the story of a small, relatively unknown racehorse — derided by the experts as a long shot with no chance of winning — who not only wins, but inspires a nation in the midst of the Great Depression,” said an e-mail distributed by the Kucinich campaign Wednesday.

The e-mail added that Kucinich is a candidate “similarly derided by the pundits but who is inspiring voters from coast to coast, as his campaign picks up speed just five months out of the starting gate.”

David Perera and Ashley Johnson contributed to this report.