Guns and Chappaquiddick

Posted June 23, 2004 at 6:58pm

Either Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) is obsessed with the 1969 Chappaquiddick scandal, or he just throws it in the Kennedys’ faces when they talk about gun control.

Chappaquiddick rolled off his tongue like water off a duck’s back Wednesday during a House Appropriations Committee markup, where Cunningham took a personal jab at Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) by invoking his father’s notorious 1969 car accident that killed Mary Jo Kepechne.

Republicans and Democrats were debating a GOP amendment to prohibit disclosure in civil cases of gun ownership information obtained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Cunningham supported it. Kennedy opposed it, saying disclosure of such records would not hurt law enforcement efforts as Cunningham and other GOP members (and the National Rifle Association) contend. That was enough to set Cunningham off, and that’s when he said what he was thinking, instead of just thinking it.

Cunningham turned to Kennedy and suggested opening the files on Chappaquiddick.

A stunned Kennedy called Cunningham “an idiot!”

Cunningham later apologized to Kennedy within earshot of plenty of others in the committee room. Kennedy returned the favor and apologized for calling Cunningham an idiot.

But Cunningham told HOH he doesn’t regret what he said.

“I’m not regretting it. In the heat of battle sometimes you don’t use the best analogy that you could,” Cunningham explained.

But he chose the analogy he did because Chappaquiddick was very much on his mind. “July 19, 1969, is the anniversary,” Cunningham told HOH. “Someone just brought that up to me” before walking into the Appropriations Committee room, he said.

So, Cunningham, said, “it was tit for tat.” If Democrats want to open up certain gun records in civil lawsuits then “the secured records of Chappaquiddick ought to be opened as well. It was apropos.”

Kennedy declined to discuss the incident or Cunningham, except to say, “The fact that he said it says more about him than I ever could.”

“And, yes, I did apologize to him for calling him an idiot,” Kennedy said.

Pot Shot at Kay Bay. It’s gotta be a big vote or something pretty extraordinary to bring all 100 Senators to the floor at the exact same time. But it happened briefly on Tuesday just after the party caucus luncheons, for the official photo shoot of the U.S. Senate with all the Senators behaving and seated nicely at their desks.

But for several minutes — close to 15 minutes, sources say — there were only 99 Senators on the floor. Senators started grumbling and looking around and finally realized who was missing: Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who was in the Cloakroom on the telephone.

One Senator told HOH that some of Hutchison’s colleagues were “discussing greeting her with boos when she entered, but she was spared.”

Perhaps because Hutchison felt that she had waited long enough for the Democrats. One GOP Senator acknowledged that Hutchison was the last of the 100 Senators to get into position for the annual photo, but he quickly shifted the blame to tardy Democrats. The minority party’s weekly luncheons in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Room, just off the Senate floor, have grown notoriously long, about 10 to 15 minutes longer than the GOP lunches. This Republican said the GOP Senators were left cooling their heels in the chamber Tuesday waiting for Democrats to break from their lunch.

That prompted Hutchison to sneak off and try to make a call just before the Democrats arrived. Finally, a couple of Senators realized she was nowhere to be seen, leading to calls of, “Where’s Kay, where’s Kay?”

A spokesman for Hutchison simply said the Senator arrived promptly for the photo shoot and “seeing no Democratic Senator had yet arrived she wanted to make a phone call.”

Land of Lincoln. Vice President Cheney stirred up trouble when he visited his boyhood hometown of Lincoln, Neb., last week. He’s in hot water with the mayor of Lincoln, Democrat Coleen Seng, who says the vice president racked up a $31,900 tab with his security needs while he was in town making a stump speech for Republican House candidate Jeff Fortenberry.

Seng has been demanding that either the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign or the Fortenberry campaign, which invited Cheney to speak at the Lincoln event, reimburse the city for the costs, most of which involved deploying additional police officers.

But the Fortenberry campaign tells HOH that the mayor shouldn’t hold her breath. Fortenberry isn’t paying for a thing, they say.

Fortenberry is running against state Sen. Matt Connealy (D) for the seat of retiring Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.) in the heavily GOP district.

“In our opinion it’s a partisan-driven complaint,” says Fortenberry spokeswoman Jessica Moenning. “And under no circumstances should the Democrats play politics with the security and the life of the vice president.”

Moenning says Democrats should be ashamed because “it was a great honor to welcome our native son back to Nebraska.” And none were happier, she says, than Cheney’s two kindergarten teachers, who not only are still living, but who Cheney “spent quite a bit of time with” while he was in town.