Our Party, Under God

Posted April 28, 2004 at 6:37pm

Fallout from Rep. Jim McDermott’s (D-Wash.) refusal to say the words “under God,” or place his right hand over his heart while leading the Pledge of Allegiance on the House floor Tuesday morning continued Wednesday.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was furious with McDermott and blasted his longtime colleague during a Democratic leadership meeting Wednesday, according to sources.

Hoyer argued that whatever McDermott’s personal feelings were about the phrase “under God,” that when he gave the pledge on the floor, McDermott was representing all Democrats,

not just himself. In Hoyer’s view, McDermott should have thought about what it would mean for the entire Democratic Caucus and not just himself before he spoke.

The sources said Hoyer believes that McDermott’s behavior gave encouragement to those who criticize Democrats as weak on the issue of faith and religious values.

“There are a lot of people unhappy with McDermott,” said a senior Democratic leadership aide.

Republicans objected to McDermott’s version of the pledge as well. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) slammed McDermott for “embarrassing the House and disparaging the majority of Americans who share the values expressed in the pledge.”

The pledge was printed in the Congressional Record without McDermott’s revisions.

The dispute over the words “under God” have been a hot political topic since last year, and a legal case challenging their inclusion in the pledge has reached the Supreme Court. McDermott was one of seven lawmakers, all Democrats, who voted against a House resolution condemning the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last March holding that the use of the word “God” in the pledge was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the federal government.

McDermott’s explanation for Tuesday’s episode was laid out in a statement released by his office: “My thoughts were not where they should have been and I reverted to the Pledge as it was written and taught in the public schools throughout my childhood. The Pledge has indeed been amended since then and I will endeavor to concentrate on what I’m doing in the future and say the modern version.”

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), however, reassured the Washington Democrat of continued divine munificence, regardless of his views.

“Yesterday, one of our colleagues led the House Pledge of Allegiance using his own personal version,” said Kirk on the House floor Wednesday. “In his version, he left out the words ‘under God.’ He may not love the words ‘under God’ in our country’s pledge, but God still loves him.”

Capitol Retirement. The Capitol Police Department announced Wednesday that Assistant Chief Robert Howe is retiring after a 33 year law enforcement career. Howe will officially step down from his post in August.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer praised Howe as “a good friend and ally” in announcing his retirement to House officials during an Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

Then-Sen. Cliff Hansen (R-Wyo.) appointed Howe to his first position on the police force in March 1971, a time when much of the department was still comprised of patronage positions.

“I intended to stay a couple years but I’m still here,” Howe recalled in an interview with Roll Call in August 2003. There is no word yet on a replacement for Howe.

Lucky Threes. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and his wife, Rhoda, are the proud parents of triplets. Yes, triplets.

Annika Brigit, Christian August and Tristen Francis were born on Tuesday night at 5:15 p.m. Pacific time at Saddleback Memorial Hospital in Orange County. The two girls and a boy were born a month early, but all are healthy and expected to go home soon. They range in weight from 3 pounds, 7 ounces (Tristen) to 4 pounds, 6 ounces, which is considered a good weight for triplets.

“Rep. Rohrabacher was with his wife for the delivery of the triplets,” said a statement released by his office. “The delivery went smoothly and Rhonda is doing very well.”

Rhonda and fellow surfer Rohrabacher were married in 1997. She was a one-time campaign manager for the California Republican.

Physician, Heal Thyself. Leave it to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to lose his voice over the weekend in Nashville and not even be able to speak at the microphones after the weekly policy luncheons on Tuesday. But, like seemingly everything else that happens to Frist, the way he lost his voice is a story unto itself.

Last weekend was Frist’s big political gathering for the year, benefitting his leadership political action committee, Volunteer PAC. As is his annual tradition, Frist timed the event to coincide with Music City’s Country Music Marathon and 1/2 Marathon. This year, the Majority Leader was the honorary starter for the Sunday morning race, and Frist had the honor of kicking off the contest from an elevated platform. He then cheered on, quite loudly apparently, all 18,000 runners.

Once all the other runners had taken off, Frist, as planned, looked at his Capitol Police security detailee and set off behind the racers — intending to go on a five-mile run.

But no, five miles wasn’t good enough. Frist was feeling fine and decided to go for eight or 10 miles. At the 10-mile mark, about the point where those running the half-marathon split off from those going on for the full 26.2 miles, Frist looked at his security officer and declared that they would finish the half marathon, 13.1 miles in total.

An accomplished marathoner, Frist breezed through the half marathon in an unofficial time of about two hours and 15 minutes — and lost his voice in the process.

It was so bad he avoided the press stakeout 48 hours after the race. By Wednesday, Frist’s voice was still a little gravely. As his wily spokesman, Bob Stevenson, put it, “That’s a non Heard on the Hill.”

Now We Know. One way to tell whether a potential candidate is serious about running for office is that he or she gets married. Which is what’s happening with Billy Tauzin III.

The younger Tauzin is getting hitched on Saturday to his fiancee, Kristin Batulis in Thibodaux, La. Tauzin did not want to comment on his upcoming betrothal, telling HOH it was a “private matter.”

Tauzin, 30, is a manager of regulatory and external affairs for BellSouth. He hasn’t actually announced his candidacy for the House yet, but is expected to do so soon and has already set up an exploratory committee.

His father has held the 3rd district since May 1980. The elder Tauzin, who had been rumored to be ready to step down for months in order to take a lucrative K Street job, announced his retirement in early February. He has been battling cancer since then, and had portions of his stomach, pancreas and small intestine removed. He is undergoing more treatment and hopes to return to work soon.

Kudos. The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid, who has already won a Pulitzer Prize, will be getting the first Annual Michael Kelly Award as well. Shadid was selected for the honor, given by the Atlantic Media Company, thanks to his “physical and intellectual courage in reporting from Iraq,” according to announcement set for today. Kelly was a highly respected editor at both the Atlantic Monthly and National Journal, and was killed last year in Iraq while covering the U.S. invasion and occupation of that troubled country.

Paul Kane, Jennifer Yachnin, Chris Cillizza and Brody Mullins contributed to this report.