All Eyes on the Hammer, Until the Hairdo Steps In

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, April 6, 2006

House Speaker Dennis Hastert needed a lifeline.

His sidekick Tom DeLay, quitting the House, had just said that the Republican Party doesn't have an agenda. A group of Republican rebels, defying Hastert, was starting a petition to force a debate on the Iraq war. And Hastert was standing in front of the microphones, answering questions about splits between moderates and conservatives in his party over immigration and the budget.

Finally, a Fox News producer took mercy on him. "Should Cynthia McKinney resign?" she asked.

A look of relief verging on joy washed over the face of the hulking Illinois Republican. McKinney, of course, is the Georgia Democrat who may face grand jury charges for allegedly striking a U.S. Capitol Police officer with her cellphone last week when he stopped her at a metal detector because he didn't recognize her.

"You know, it's interesting that you ask this question," Hastert replied, to laughter. "This is not about personalities. It's not about somebody's ego. It's not about racial profiling. It's trying to make this place safer."

GOP aides, one of them wearing an "I {heart} Capitol Police" button, called the session to an end. A dismal news conference had been salvaged by the McKinney scandal. "We should send somebody over to thank her," Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) said as he left the room.

They should send flowers and chocolates, too. Democrats were just beginning to dream about the possibility of taking control of the House in the November elections as GOP unity collapsed over spending, immigration, Iraq and lobbying scandals. Then McKinney had her dust-up with the cops and responded with a charge of racial profiling.

House Republicans were grateful for the gift. Freshman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) took the floor yesterday with a resolution commending the Capitol Police. "These men and women deserve a pat on the back, not a punch in the chest," he said.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the man in charge of House Democrats' 2006 campaign, immediately signed on as a co-sponsor. "My uncle's a cop," he deadpanned.

The bigger challenge for Democrats: stopping McKinney from talking. Yesterday alone she did three morning news shows.

"What happened?" asked CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

"Let me first say that this has become much ado about a hairdo," McKinney replied. "The real issue --"

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company