On Day Two, Senators Tap Gift of Gab

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2007; 5:22 PM

Welcome, Gen. David Petraeus, to this special meeting of the Senate Travel Club.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) displayed a blown-up photograph of her meeting in Iraq with the general. "I will never forget it," she said. "We were sitting in an armored vehicle. You said, 'You're about to see some terrific troops.' "

"I was in Ramadi, about nine days ago," boasted Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). "I met with the mayor of Ramadi, who was talking about -- they've got Lake Habaniyah there -- and he was talking about, you know, a resort area."

Iraq is a long way from Alaska, but that state's senator, Lisa Murkowski (R), had a travelogue, too. "When I was in Iraq and had a sitdown with General Odierno, he said as important as the military surge is going to be the civilian surge," she recalled.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) added his own reminiscences. "Senator Biden said to me once -- I think it was on our first trip to Iraq -- he turned around and I was gone," Hagel recalled. "He found me out talking to the guys in the jeep."

Petraeus, awash in the senators' travel reminiscences, tried to express his own fondness for the place. "It is home now, Iraq," he told the lawmakers.

This was not exactly the main item on the agenda for Petraeus's visit to Congress. But the House stole the Senate's thunder by having the first Petraeus hearing on Monday. As if to rub it in, Petraeus greeted both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees yesterday by re-reading, virtually word for word, the same testimony he gave to the House.

This meant that Petraeus's pronouncements were old news by today, leaving senators free to do what they do best: talk.

Hagel used all seven of his allotted minutes making a speech. So did Boxer. So did Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill).

Sen. John Sununu (R- N.H.) rebuked his colleagues for their wordiness. "I will take my question-and-answer time to ask questions, if it's all right with the committee and the witnesses," he said primly. It then took Sununu a minute and 10 seconds to fire off his first question.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) thought it best not to open himself to charges of hypocrisy. "Our hearings are more about listening to ourselves than listening to our witnesses," he said, "and I promise to continue that tradition myself."

Even the hecklers seemed thwarted by the repetitiveness. After a dozen hecklers interrupted the House proceedings on Monday, two more attempted to do the same before the Senate today -- but one of them, wearing business attire, was so nervous that he froze and forgot the words he had planned to shout.

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