By Al Kamen
Friday, January 25, 2008
With Congress deadlocked over how to fill four open seats on the Federal Election Commission, the two remaining commissioners sat surrounded by empty chairs yesterday during their first meeting of the year, our colleague Matthew Mosk reports.
The vacancies have left the commissioners powerless to conduct almost any official duties, but that didn't stop them from meeting to conduct important business.
At the top of their agenda: selecting a vice chairman. With David Mason already occupying the chairman's seat, there was not a lot of suspense on this one.
"I suppose I should say, 'I am shocked. I had no idea!' But, well, this is a very unusual circumstance," Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said after Mason nominated her. Weintraub's selection was unanimous. Breaking with protocol, she voted for herself.Finding His Voice
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is incredibly soft-spoken, has been a reporter's nightmare for three years as the majority leader. You can't hear him half the time, and you have to stick your digital recorder really close to him to pick up everything.
So, at yesterday's leadership briefing, Reid starts by telling the assembled press he's angry no one had asked what his New Year's resolution was:
"I'm going to try to talk louder," he said.
The press corps broke into loud applause.Thanks, but No Thanks
A refreshing sign of the times? Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.) announced yesterday that he is leaving Congress after 20 years in the House. Walsh, 60, narrowly defeated a challenger, former Ways and Means Committee aide Dan Maffei, in 2006 and was looking at a tough reelection.
But the decision must have been made recently. On Tuesday morning, at a campaign fundraising breakfast in Syracuse, Walsh gave a spirited defense of his record. We're hearing he picked up maybe $30,000 at the breakfast. Maybe he had an epiphany as he was walking out with the cash? Maybe he got tired of fundraisers?
In any event, he told his staff on Wednesday he is leaving. And we hear he also announced he is giving back the money. There have been other lawmakers over the years, in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle, who have not been so generous.A Conspiracy? Surely You Jest.
So what happened to those pages of a bipartisan transportation commission report advocating major improvements in the nation's infrastructure? You know, the one talking about federal government involvement in improving rail transportation? The one that Paul M. Weyrich, the conservative guru and railroad-improvement advocate, worked on?
Some folks were certain that Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, the commission chairman, and two other dissenters on the 12-member bipartisan panel had maybe forgotten to put in a handful of pages in an advance copy of the 258-page report, both online and printed. Maybe a zealous printer ripped them out.
Conspiracy theories last week were apparently sparked by the contentious nature of the panel's disagreements over the proper role of government, free-market strategies, taxes and other matters, with Peters strenuously holding out in the minority.
But in the end, according to one member of the majority, Vice Chairman Jack Schenendorf, there were "no changes made and nothing done deliberately by DOT staff or the White House" to alter the recommendations.
"We're trying to figure out what happened," Schenendorf told us yesterday, but there's "always a glitch and mistakes" in these efforts. The omitted material will be inserted into the final version. "Everyone has calmed down," he said.Vigilance Rewarded, Belatedly
Remember that Minnesota flight instructor who suspected in August 2001 that Zacarias Moussaoui was up to no good? There were odd things. Such as the way Moussaoui paid his $6,800 tuition in $100 bills. Or maybe his saying he wanted to know only how to fly a big jet but didn't care about takeoffs or landings?
The flight instructor urged his bosses to alert the FBI. Moussaoui later pleaded guilty to being involved in an al-Qaeda hijacking plot, though not the Sept. 11 attacks.
At a closed State Department ceremony yesterday, the instructor, Capt. Clarence "Clancy" Prevost, was rewarded with $5 million for his alertness. The money comes from the department's Rewards for Justice program for people who supply information that helps track down terrorists.Look Who's Not Talking
Meghan O'Sullivan, the former Bush deputy national security adviser, sparked a bit of a kerfuffle Tuesday night at Indiana University when a speech she was scheduled to give was canceled after the student newspaper refused to agree to demands that the public event would be off the record.
O'Sullivan, who left the administration last fall and is now at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, told the Indiana Daily Student that it is a "common practice for people who leave government for a certain period." She said she'd "spoken widely off-the-record" and her request has been "respected."
A faculty adviser for the Student Alliance for National Security, which contracted with her to speak at the school, said the speech was canceled because O'Sullivan wasn't feeling well -- bad tummy, we hear. But later that night, she attended a private dinner and spoke with professors, "campus leaders" and Student Alliance members.
It's considered poor form -- though a lot of fun for the media -- to leave a government job and immediately begin trashing your former employers. O'Sullivan's policy always has been to speak off the record. And it's most unclear what negative things a Bush loyalist such as O'Sullivan would say.
Still, some of the 70 or so people who showed up for her talk said they were disappointed it was canceled.The Friendly Blogosphere
It wasn't exactly a FEMA moment, but there was something odd about the Department of Defense "Bloggers Roundtable" on Tuesday with Marine Lt. Col. David L. Coggins, chief of the mobile training and mentoring team for noncommissioned officer leadership, NATO training mission.
The session was hosted by Jack Holt of the Pentagon's new media operation. Two bloggers spoke by phone with Coggins, who was in Baghdad. The idea was to reach out to the blogosphere and give bloggers access to military officers. We're told most of those who've logged on have been defense community insiders. Some sessions attract more folks than others.
Holt turned to Jared Fishman-- that was Lt. Jared Fishman -- for the first question, which, Coggins said, was "a really great question." Holt asked about "what type ships the Iraqi navy was working with?" That, too, was deemed a "really great question."
Coggins at one point gave an answer that Holt deemed just "excellent." Holt asked if "anybody else" in the blogosphere had "any other questions." Apparently not, so Holt concluded the session, noting it was "a great news story."
It's always a great news story when the right bloggers are onboard.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this column.