Viet Wine

Posted June 22, 2005 at 6:45pm

Security officers weren’t the first ones to intervene and remove a presumed Vietnam veteran heckler from Tuesday night’s U.S.-Vietnam dinner at the Mayflower Hotel: Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) was.

And the heckler didn’t just yell at Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai: He threw a glass of wine at them.[IMGCAP(1)]

Simmons was seated next to the head table, where McCain, who spent six years as a POW, and Khai were breaking bread over the future of U.S.-Viet relations. During the dramatic standing ovation in the packed hotel ballroom that followed McCain’s heartfelt and moving speech, Simmons sensed something odd. He looked to his right and, in that flash of an instant, noticed that “one person was not really happy.” It was a woman, Simmons said. But next to her was a balding man who grabbed what Simmons thought was a glass of water — but was actually wine — and threw it in the direction of McCain and the Vietnamese prime minister.

“He was yelling at the Senator, ‘You’re a traitor,’” Simmons said. He said the heckler then shouted to the prime minister, “You’re a murderer. You’re a murderer.”

Through the noise and sea of people during the standing ovation, security did not immediately see the problem. Simmons reached over and grabbed the back of the heckler’s jacket, yelling, “Stop that!” and “Cut it out!” Then, security showed up and carted the guy out.

Simmons, who served in Vietnam for three and a half years, said if “anybody there had a right to be bitter” it was McCain. But he admiringly said the Senator just smiled and brushed off the heckling. “There were a lot of us there who have a right to be bitter, but we’ve gotten beyond that,” Simmons said.

McCain told HOH later that he thought the heckler intended to throw the glass of wine at the prime minister, not at him. “But unfortunately, some of it hit me,” McCain said. He recalled the man, who was wearing a suit, saying something like, “I throw wine at you. You’re responsible for a million deaths.”

Simmons said he was not happy with the level of security in the Mayflower ballroom. (He ordered beefed-up Capitol Police security for the luncheon that he co-hosted on Wednesday for Prime Minister Khai.) He joked that he had some brawn in tow Tuesday night, but the two staffers who were with him froze. “I had these two big hulking guys with me. They’re sitting there while I’m trying to wrestle this guy to the ground. I said, ‘Where the hell’s my body guard when I need it!?’”

O’Weldon Factor. Showing some (thin) skin, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) went on the House floor Tuesday night and pretty much scoured Bill O’Reilly for rubbing the Congressman (though not with a loofah) the wrong way.

Weldon dedicated an entire five-minute Special Order speech to retaliating against the “O’Reilly Factor” host for criticizing the Congressman on the air as being a no-show guest. The saucy Fox News host opened his show by calling Weldon “grossly irresponsible” for allegedly not showing up as scheduled. “So he’s banned from The Factor forever and we thought you would like to know what kind of a classy guy the Congressman is. Just didn’t show!” O’Reilly said.

Weldon was fit to be tied when he heard that. He went to the floor Tuesday night and declared, “All of us are used to misinformation, lies and distortions and manipulation by the media. We refer to that as spin; but, Mr. Speaker, I never expected such spin to come from the no-spin zone of Bill O’Reilly.” After which Weldon went to great lengths to explain his schedule the previous day — which involved a meeting with Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman and six votes that went late into the night — and why he couldn’t make the show.

Giving a detailed point-by-point sketch of his busy day, the Congressman insisted that his people had called O’Reilly’s people.

“Finally,” Weldon said, using his floor speech to talk directly to O’Reilly, “when I tried to personally reach you, your staff was not willing to provide my staff with a suitable number.” Hence the speech dedicated to Bill O’Reilly from the floor of the people’s house.

But O’Reilly had told his national TV audience the night before that Congressman Weldon had “snubbed” him. To that Weldon replied, “Talk about spin … Mr. O’Reilly, we do not need more spin. We need honesty and candor. You call for it every day. Now perhaps your staff is not providing the appropriate level of service to you.”

By now, readers may have heard O’Reilly’s fair-and-balanced rebuttal from Wednesday night’s show.

Free Paul! In the GOP Conference meeting Wednesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) got up and was about to give out details of a long-awaited Social Security proposal when Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) told him to can it. Thomas didn’t want Ryan giving anything away before his 1:30 p.m. press conference. “We want at least two reporters to show up,” one source recalled Thomas saying.

The baby-faced Ryan gave an alrighty-then shrug of the shoulders and sat down. Sympathetic Members started chanting, “Free Paul, Free Paul, Free Paul.” (Which reminds HOH, is bunny boy Toby still alive?)

Emily Pierce and Jared Allen contributed to this report.