Foot in Mouth

Posted October 15, 2003 at 6:31pm

It’s probably a good idea that Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) decided against seeking the White House, given the less than diplomatic remarks uttered last week by the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Appearing at a Chrysler plant before 2,000 auto workers in his home state, Biden said their expected success with rolling out a new Dodge Durango SUV next month shows America could be “beating the living hell out of the Japanese and beating the living hell out of the Europeans” in the manufacturing area.

Biden’s comments, reported by Reuters on Friday, seem to run a wee bit counter to his contention that the Bush administration should be kinder to our allies. But there’s another problem: The plant Biden was touting is owned by Daimler-Chrysler, a German company run by CEO Juergen Schrempp (clearly not a boy from Bethany Beach).

“As Senator Biden would say, ‘Give me a break,’” spokesman Norm Kurz said with a laugh. “You’re mixing apples and oranges. What Biden was saying is he wants to make sure the American auto industry is competitive.”

When asked whether there was a way to make that point without the anti-European attitude of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Kurz joked, “Which Europe — the new Europeans or the Old Europeans?”

As to the praise for the European company, Kurz said, “But they are American jobs.”

Marianne McInerney, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, claimed Biden had perpetrated an “outrageous” slam on U.S. trading partners.

“The Senator ought to be working to improve trade relations and reduce barriers, instead of attacking automakers who create jobs for American workers,” McInerney said.

Biden, who presumably would have wanted to win support from business and labor if he had run for president this year, added this gem to the crowd of United Auto Workers: “I don’t give a damn about management, but I love the UAW.”

Ironically, Biden was joined by someone from that dreaded management team at Chrysler, Tom LaSorda, the executive vice president for manufacturing.

“We’re going to kick Toyota’s ass, Honda’s ass and everybody else’s ass,” LaSorda boasted.

Biden was singing a different tune on last Sunday’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he slammed the Bush administration’s “failure to bring in the rest of the international community” on Iraq, especially the inability to “bring in serious, heavy assistance coming from Europe.”

Countered Kurz: “The trade issue is different from saying the Bush administration has done a poor job of reaching out to our allies on foreign policy.”

Bashing the Old Gray Lady. The New York Times was already taking it on the chin this week for snubbing its hometown Yankees in favor of the Boston Red Sox in a glowing editorial, and now comes a rhetorical blast from Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

As he took aim at the media in general for not reporting much good news about post-war Iraq, such as the fact that there are now 170 newspapers operating in the Middle Eastern nation, McConnell took a shot at the credibility of the Times.

“Some of these papers are probably more credible even than, shall we say, the New York Times — just to pick out a paper,” he added to laughter from the press corps.

The Times, which has often served as a piñata for the GOP, has become a particular punching bag in recent months. When the Jayson Blair scandal was still raw this spring, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) made a public display of tweaking a Times correspondent in a Capitol hallway, while Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) railed at a May hearing about how another correspondent who wrote a story about judicial nominations once “shared bylines with the infamous Mr. Blair.”

Honoring the “Squire.” Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) opened up his grand President Pro Tem suite in the Capitol on Tuesday night to celebrate the recent engagement of Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) to Jeanne Vander Myde.

A line of lawmakers and significant others — various Old Bulls as well as freshmen like Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — showed up to toast the Armed Services chairman and his bride-to-be.

Stevens, who has been known to teasingly refer to his colleague as “Squire” for being a country gentleman who’s been known to escort his share of women around town, helpfully noted to HOH that he and Warner go all the way back to the days when the Virginian was married to Elizabeth Taylor.

“We have a wonderful relationship involving the normal squabbles among Senators, especially between one who’s in charge of Armed Services and one in charge of Appropriations,” Stevens said. “But we’re close friends.”

A beaming Warner pronounced he and his betrothed to be “very pleased” about the gesture from Stevens.

“He’s my oldest friend in the Senate,” said Warner. “When I came here 25 years ago, he was the Whip and he took great pleasure in whipping my derrière. And nothing has changed in 25 years.”

Cola Wars. Some under-caffeinated House staffers are angrily pointing the finger of blame at Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) for getting the soda machines in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building banished to Siberia or someplace equally inaccessible — a charge that has left the lawmaker with a bad taste in his mouth.

The machines, which had long been situated in the Cannon basement near the entrance to the Capitol, were a godsend for staffers and Members rushing back and forth to floor votes. But they now reside far off in another corridor, which has led to grumbling that Mica intervened to get them bounced.

The noncarbonated Congressman did indeed write a “Dear Colleague” letter in May, which also was sent to the Office of Compliance, complaining about the “growing problem” of trash-strewn hallways. Insiders insist the missive, as well as private gripes from Mica, pushed the regulators to target the soda machines.

But Mica spokesman Gary Burns told HOH that it’s “categorically untrue” that the boss had anything to do with the soda moves.

“He complained earlier in the year that the hallways were cluttered with furniture, trash and debris and that this poses a hazard,” Burns said. “[The moves] may be an indirect result of his request. But to say it’s a direct result is inaccurate.”

That has not satisfied aides still sore that Mica also took aim at their casual clothes in his original missive, proposing a dress code for staffers. “With all the issues facing Congress these days, Mr. Mica’s top priorities seem to be khaki-wearing staffers and soda machines,” cracked one House aide. “It makes you wonder.”

Burns rattled off a series of important legislation the boss has been working on from his perch as chairman of the aviation subcommittee, adding frostily: “The one staffer who has apparently been inconvenienced should just have a Coke and a smile.”

Hammering Rahm. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is less than impressed by freshman Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s (D-Ill.) fashion sense.

Emanuel has been running around the Capitol and various TV studios showing off a T-shirt that slams President Bush’s push for $87 billion to rebuild post-war Iraq at the expense of projects here at home.

On one side of the shirt, Emanuel plastered some of the more outrageous line items for Iraq (such as $697 million for sewer services), while there are various underfunded American needs on the other side.

The former Clinton White House aide’s hawking of the shirt has led to more than 9,000 hits on his Web site and about 50 requests to buy the shirt from the company that printed them up. (The Congressman is not benefiting from the sale of any of the shirts.)

“We gave America a liberated Iraq and a deposed terrorist dictator, and all we got from the Democrats was this lousy T-shirt,” cracked DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy.

But DeLay has stopped short of giving Emanuel one of the “Leak Hyperventilation” bags that he has been handing out to Democrats giddy about the CIA leak story. “We thought a sock might be more appropriate for him,” Roy said.

Emanuel spokeswoman Cecelia Prewett countered, “We’re more comfortable when they wear T-shirts so taxpayers can see what they have up their sleeves.”

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.