Kennedy’s Runaway Car

Posted June 25, 2004 at 6:39pm

The good news: Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) wasn’t driving. The bad news: His driverless minivan crashed into three other parked cars, including that of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), near one of the entrances to Dirksen last Thursday morning.

Kennedy’s driver dropped his boss off at the First and C streets entrance

[IMGCAP(1)] to the Dirksen Building, where Kennedy had a meeting, and was about to drive off when the phone rang. It was the office calling, and they needed the Senator right away. So the driver — a 20-something college graduate whose name HOH agreed not to use — jumped out of the minivan to run get the Senator to take the call.

Unfortunately, he forgot to put the car in park.

Kennedy’s blue Chrysler Town & Country went merrily careening along, hitting Santorum’s and two other parked SUVs (we’re not sure whose, but they didn’t belong to Senators). Damage to Santorum’s Chevy TrailBlazer was only “cosmetic,” a source said. It appeared Kennedy’s minivan has a dent in the corner panel, but “nothing extensive,” Kennedy spokesman Jim Manley said.

Kennedy’s office doesn’t yet know the full extent of the damage caused. But, presumably to apologize, Kennedy spoke to Santorum on the Senate floor Thursday, Manley said.

The public affairs office at the Capitol Police confirmed the runaway incident but shared no other information.

Manley said the young driver “feels absolutely awful about the situation” and he’ll get to keep his job.

So, all you people on Capitol Hill, watch out for that minivan!

Ding Dong. This was some typo. Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), who filed an ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), put out a press release last week mistakenly questioning his own ethical conduct instead of DeLay’s.

“I am confident that the [House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct] … will ultimately decide to proceed with the long overdue investigation into Representative Bell’s illegal activities.”

Whoops.

Bell Press Secretary Eric Burns, the typo culprit, says he whipped off the press release hurriedly without giving it a good read first and blamed his spaciness on “Chris Bell on the brain” syndrome.

“I’m sure the DeLay people are having lots of fun with that. But I think everybody knows who the ethically challenged Member is here in the House,” Burns said. “And it’s not Chris Bell.”

More ironic, perhaps, than Congressman Bell accidentally calling for an ethics investigation on himself is his press secretary’s history with Republicans in Texas. Eric Burns was one of them!

“I grew up a Republican,” says Burns, who did work for George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas. He made the switch in 2002 to work for Chris Bell’s House campaign.

And more ironic yet? DeLay’s office once contacted Burns to see if he’d be interested in working for the Hammer, Burns said. But he declined. “Even in Texas, I had very little respect for him,” said Burns, not missing an opportunity to take a stab at DeLay. “I came to the conclusion that the Republican Party was kind of bankrupt in many ways.”

A Texas Republican source says Burns was never offered a job. “That kind of amateurish performance wouldn’t cut it in DeLay’s office,” the source said.

More Typo Logic. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did his annual comedic stand-up routine on the Senate floor last week, lambasting all the pork projects in the Defense spending bill. He singled out what he thought were the most egregious examples, tossing around one-liner after one-liner, such as:

“Six million dollars for the LISA inspector. Who is this Lisa, and why does it cost $6 million to inspect her?”

“Four million dollars for Project Albert. Hey Hey Hey. Seems like Albert could get pretty fat off all the pork in this bill.”

Mighty funny. But one of McCain’s one-liners, aimed at a project earmarked by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), was a tad off. McCain got the name of the project all wrong, although it made his joke funnier.

“One million dollars for the Center for Political Logic Devices. I am the first one who would pay for logic if we could insert some into our political process,” McCain said.

The real name of the project is the Center for Optical Logic Devices, which, although its creation still has plenty to do with politics, is not a political entity in and of itself. (Anybody can see that.) The Frist project is a biometrics research effort between Fisk University and Idaho State.

McCain’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, said the Senator acknowledges his error but, as he put it, “To paraphrase Shakespeare, pork by any other name is still pork.”

Bad Taste. A news conference held by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to advocate adult stem-cell research — and backhandedly denounce embryonic stem-cell research — backfired a little bit last week.

Brownback, a major Senate opponent of embryonic stem-cell research, held a small news conference in his office in lieu of a hearing he has twice “postponed” showcasing two young accident victims in wheelchairs who recently underwent surgeries using their own stem cells.

Brownback spokesman Brian Hart said the intent of the news conference was “to show that these two young ladies can now talk, walk and shake hands.”

A source who attended the news conference said the two young women, both still partially paralyzed, had severely atrophied muscles. Brownback asked one of them to “stand up” and show everyone what a success her surgery was. But she couldn’t, explaining that she didn’t have her leg braces with her and wasn’t prepared. “It was cruel. It was in really bad taste,” the source told HOH.

The biggest surprise came when a reporter asked the father of Laura Dominguez, one of the patients, what he thought about President Bush’s 2001 decision against expanding stem-cell research. The decision came two weeks after doctors told the Dominguez family that Laura would be “a complete quadriplegic” from her car accident.

“It was a complete slap in the face,” Dominguez said of the president’s position. The other young woman in a wheelchair loudly chimed in: “Why aren’t they doing anything?” One source who attended the news conference told HOH that “their frustration was clearly evident.”

Spokesman Hart says he doesn’t remember Dominguez calling Bush’s policy a “slap in the face.” Instead, he reported, Dominguez said, “It was like getting the wind knocked out of me.”

Same thing, if you ask HOH.

Hart said Brownback wasn’t taken aback by his guests’ obvious difference of opinions on embryonic stem-cell research.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.