Dean Aides Downplay Slam of Congress

Posted October 15, 2003 at 6:38pm

Comments made Tuesday by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean comparing Members of Congress to insects have caused reverberations on Capitol Hill even as his campaign sought to downplay the situation.

At an event in Iowa, Dean said that if he is elected president, Members are “going to be scurrying for shelter, just like a giant flashlight on a bunch of cockroaches.”

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee and a supporter of Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) presidential bid, took issue with that characterization.

“Governor Dean has had some very big things wrong for a long time,” Obey said.

Pointing to Dean’s alleged support for Medicare cuts in the early 1990s, Obey argued that the governor “undercut” efforts by House Democratic leaders to “prevent Newt Gingrich from shutting down the government.”

“I think that background demonstrates that if Governor Dean is elected it won’t be Members of Congress running for cover — it will be senior citizens running for protection.”

One Democratic leadership aide added that “in Howard Dean’s world there has been no one fighting against the Republicans until [he opposed] the Iraq resolution.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), also a Gephardt supporter, was more cautious, choosing to largely avoid the question at hand.

“The leader is confident that the next president of the United States will be a Democrat and he or she will work with the Democratic Congress,” was all spokeswoman Jennifer Crider would offer.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) was similarly noncommital.

“Senator Daschle has said he is not going to get involved in the Democratic primary,” said spokesman Dan Pfeiffer. “This is a debate for the nine candidates and their supporters.”

For its part, the Dean campaign sought to portray the remark as nothing more than a colorful turn of phrase designed to underscore his insurgent campaign against so-called “Washington insiders.”

“The governor’s message here isn’t anti-anything,” said Dean spokesman Jay Carson, who recently left Daschle’s office to join the campaign. “Our core group of supporters in Washington understand this campaign and get what it’s about.”

The uproar over Dean’s comments took away slightly from the much-anticipated official announcement of his third-quarter fundraising totals.

Dean brought in $14.8 million between July 1 and Sept. 30, the largest amount ever raised in a quarter by a Democratic presidential candidate and roughly $10 million more than any of his eight rivals for the nomination.

Dean, who has raised nearly $25 million in his effort so far this year, called his latest filing a “statement by a growing segment of the American citizens that they no longer accept the political status quo.”

Although the Dean campaign largely dismissed any potential impact that his comments could have on future Congressional endorsements or his ability to effectively work with Democratic leaders if elected, Dean did reach out to his House and Senate backers in a conference call Wednesday morning.

The campaign emphasized that the call was not an attempt to smooth ruffled feathers but rather a regularly scheduled check-in with supporters.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), who was the first House Member to back Dean, said the governor had “made it clear he was talking about Republicans and other Members who act like Republicans.” Dean articulated a point that “a lot of people in the Caucus really feel,” according to Lofgren.

She added that a number of other Members were shocked when Gephardt announced at a Caucus meeting late last year that he had “cut a deal with the president on our behalf” regarding the authorization of force in Iraq. “That was kind of a gasper,” Lofgren said.

Lofgren and 80 of her Democratic House colleagues opposed the resolution. Nine of Dean’s 10 Congressional supporters opposed the legislation. One of his backers, freshman Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), was not yet in Congress.

Another Dean supporter, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), said through a spokeswoman that “Members who cave to special interests will be scurrying for shelter.”

Dean has not concentrated as heavily as his Democratic opponents at culling support from inside the Beltway in keeping with his message that by and large Democrats in Washington are afraid to stand up for their ideals.

“Dean is running a campaign that empowers people,” said a campaign aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Too often Washington doesn’t empower people.”

“It makes sense that those campaigns that don’t understand what Governor Dean’s campaign is about are made nervous by the 470,000 people that have joined this [effort] to take this country back,” the aide added.

To some, however, Dean’s latest comments are just the most recent evidence that he has little respect for the legislative process in the nation’s capital and the people who craft the laws.

“It has got to hurt him,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “No self-respecting member of the minority can read Howard Dean’s comments about a ‘go along and get along’ attitude and not be pissed off.”