By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, July 24, 2008
A simple moment of silence today on Capitol Hill will mark one of the most somber moments in recent congressional history -- and serve as another reminder of the fortress that Congress has become.
At 3:40 p.m., the House and Senate plan to observe moments of silence to mark the 10th anniversary of the shooting rampage that killed two Capitol Police officers, Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson, and left the Hill in shock. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) then will lead lawmakers out to the east lawn of the Capitol grounds, where they will plant a tree in the slain officers' memory.
"Both officers were killed in the line of duty defending the Capitol against an armed intruder," the leaders wrote to all members of the House and Senate yesterday.
On July 24, 1998 -- a hot, sunny Friday during the summer run-up to the release of the Starr report that led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment -- Russell E. Weston walked into the Capitol through a doorway on the east side, shooting and killing Chestnut, who manned a security post there.
Weston burst through a side door that led into the offices of then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the majority whip. Weston, who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, shot Gibson, a detective, who returned fire and wounded Weston.
Gibson died at the hospital, while a freshman senator -- Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart surgeon -- raced across the Capitol and helped save Weston's life. Frist tended to him during the ambulance ride to the hospital, unaware that he was the shooter.
In May of this year, a federal judge denied Weston's request to be released from a federal mental health facility near Raleigh, N.C. Forensic psychologists testified that he still suffers from delusions. He may remain in federal custody for years without ever standing trial.
The shootings were the first of three events -- the others were the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the next month's anthrax attacks -- that prompted congressional leaders to shore up the complex's security.
In addition to barricades and bollards that have established a virtual fence around the 274-acre complex, Congress has spent more than $620 million constructing the Capitol Visitor Center, a 58,000-square-foot underground building on the east front of the Capitol. All members of the public will have to enter through the visitor center. After years of delays and cost overruns, it is set to open in December.
The tree honoring Chestnut and Gibson will be located just next to the grounds that were torn up to build the visitor center.Feel the Burn
This could be the sweatiest day of the year on Capitol Hill, and not because of the ongoing heat and humidity. Richard Simmons, the fitness video icon, is scheduled to testify this morning before the House Education and Labor Committee about the importance of physical education in public schools to combat childhood obesity.
Afterwards -- be very afraid -- he says he'll lead a "pro-PE rally" that sounds an awful lot like a congressional aerobics class.
"I hope all of the congressmen and women will join us in this one-of-a-kind patriotic workout," said Simmons, who turned 60 this month and whose classic "Sweatin' to the Oldies" video is about to turn 20.
While he still has the lungs-full-of-helium voice and big hair, Simmons says he won't be wearing his signature short shorts and tank top. At least not when he testifies.
"When I stand in front of Congress to testify, I will speak from my heart, but I will look like and talk like a congressman," Simmons said via e-mail. "That's right," he added, "no Dolfin shorts and tank top."
Simmons is lobbying for a bill to expand PE classes in public schools, which he says he believes won't be signed into law until the next president is inaugurated. He won't say whom he supports. But considering that one candidate is sinking 40-foot baskets and working out vigorously on the campaign trail, we can only guess which way Simmons is leaning.Fannie and Freddie, the Party People
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are becoming the most unpopular couple on the party circuit, at least in certain circles. Conservatives on Capitol Hill are irate that, after a congressional rescue of the twin mortgage giants, both plan to host posh receptions at the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of House fiscal conservatives, says he certainly won't be going to the Fannie-Freddie bash at the GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
"I guess they have reason to celebrate," Hensarling snarled in a phone interview. "They got Congress hoodwinked into guaranteeing up to $5 trillion worth of their debt." The two government- chartered companies own or guarantee $5.3 trillion in U.S. mortgages.
"I've never been invited to a $5 trillion party before," Hensarling continued. But "I don't think I'd be at the top of their [invitation] list."
The planned parties are especially ironic given the record number of home foreclosures in the Denver and Minneapolis metropolitan areas.
The companies are hosting the GOP convention reception at the swank Graves 601 Hotel in Minneapolis, listed as one of the "gold list reserve top hotels in the world" by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. Fannie Mae chief spokesman Brian Faith did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment about the parties.
Hensarling still has time to change his mind. According to a spokesman, his staff found an invitation after sifting through mail that had not been opened.Quotations From Chairman Chuck
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) convened a news conference yesterday, roughly 100 days before the election, to offer insights and, helpfully, save reporters time by asking himself the questions we wanted him to answer.
Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, came very close to predicting Democrats will win nine seats in November and secure a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
"I know you'll ask me if we can get to 60, and I'd say it's very difficult given the [electoral] map, but not out of the question. I would have said the same thing two years ago for different reasons if you would have asked me: Can you get six seats [and the majority] in the Senate 100 days before the election? I would have said it's very difficult, but it's not out of the question. And that's where we're at with 60; we do expect to pick up a significant number of seats."
After the 45-minute session, Schumer ended by saying, "I gotta go do a TV thing." And with that, the ubiquitous Schumer was off for another interview.