Help on the Way for Lawmakers Cut Off by Gustav

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hurricane Gustav knocked the wind out of Louisiana members of Congress this week -- or at least out of their district offices -- but help is on the way.

Recently elected Rep. Don Cazayoux (D) of Baton Rouge reported a loss of power, phones and Internet access, leaving him helpless as he tried to respond to constituents after the Labor Day storm, said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for House Chief Administrative Officer Daniel P. Beard.

But a House office set up after the 2001 terrorist attacks to ensure continuity of operations for lawmakers sent a team of 10 technicians yesterday that will set up a free-standing mobile district office when it arrives on the Gulf Coast late this morning.

A multimillion-dollar truck -- called a HERCV, or House Emergency Response Communications Vehicle -- will make the trip, backed up by a second truck of repair equipment for Cazayoux's office, Ventura said. The HERCV is packed with satellite-enabled communications gear that can support 250 telephone and Internet connections.

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D), who represents hard-hit coastal parishes, and others also may plug into the mobile office, which requires no external power or communications link, he said.

The response is part of millions of dollars of "continuity of operations" upgrades the legislative branch has bought for itself since the terrorist strikes. It is the first use of the communications truck outside the Washington area, where it was activated briefly in a different form after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Ventura said.

Floor Show Running Strong

Back in Washington, Republicans who stayed behind to continue staging their "energy speak-in" on the House floor are pounding away at the one issue they feel could save them from a Democratic landslide in November.

Even though cameras are off during the recess protest, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), who is running the show this week, says lawmakers are on their best behavior. They're wearing suits and ties, sticking to formal parliamentary jargon and biting their tongues.

"No profanity, nothing off color," says McCotter, who is prone to off-color jokes and antics himself.

Of the nine Republicans who participated in yesterday's mock session, Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio) bonded most with the handful of tourists who watched the strange proceedings from the visitors gallery. "They love LaTourette. I cannot figure it out for the life of me," McCotter joked in a telephone interview.

Apparently, LaTourette got big laughs for his chart listing some of the more notable "accomplishments" of the Democratic-led House over the past year and a half, correlating the date of each measure's passage with the cost of gasoline on that particular day.

According to the chart, a resolution congratulating the UC-Santa Barbara soccer team was approved on January 29, 2007, when gas cost $2.22 a gallon. In February, House members approved a resolution commending the Houston Dynamo soccer team -- when a gallon of unleaded gas cost $3.03. The Great Cats and Rare Canids Act passed the House on May 20, when gas had risen to $3.84 a gallon. And on June 17, when Americans were paying an average of $4.14 a gallon to fill up their tanks, the House approved the Monkey Safety Act.

LaTourette told his newfound fans that he loves "furry little monkeys," but that he thought lowering the price of gas was more important at this point.

The congressman's improvisational stand-up act got a boost yesterday from an unexpected development. As McCotter told On the Hill: "Today is the first day the lights have been on. We can't figure out why." (Every other day so far, the House sergeant at arms has left the lights dimmed.)

McCotter says running the House floor show is more fun than being at his party's convention in St. Paul. But the local fun is relative, compared with the late-night party circuit at the convention.

"I'm eating soup out of a can in my basement apartment, missing my wife and kids," McCotter said.

It's an Alaska Thing

The relationship between Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Gov. Sarah Palin has been one of the more difficult ones to figure out since she was introduced as Sen. John McCain's running mate.

Upon accepting McCain's invitation to join him on the Republican national ticket, Palin touted her role in standing up to the "good ol' boys network" of Alaska. That was widely interpreted by McCain supporters as Palin's decision to nix a controversial bridge in a remote corner of Alaska that Stevens and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) had been supporting.

In addition, Palin has criticized the senator's son, former state senator Ben Stevens, for remaining a member of the Alaska Republican Party's central committee despite court documents that allege he received more than $240,000 in payments from an energy services company for legislative favors.

But Palin, while running for governor in 2006, accepted an endorsement from the 84-year-old Ted Stevens and turned it into a last-minute campaign commercial. And now, even as McCain backers cite Palin standing up to Stevens, her image is displayed proudly on the senator's campaign Web site. The two are seen laughing next to each other at a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 3 for the opening of a new trail in Alaska.

On July 29, Stevens was indicted on charges he did not report more than $250,000 worth of gifts. At the time, Palin told statehouse reporters that the indictment "rocks the foundation of our state" and that she shared "Alaskans' concern and dismay over the turn of events."

A month later, she was introduced as McCain's running mate -- and Stevens quickly endorsed her. "It's a great day for the nation and Alaskans. Governor Palin has proven herself as a bright, energetic leader for our State and will bring the same energy to the vice presidency," Stevens said in a statement.

Can't Leave the House

When Rep. Rob Andrews (N.J.) challenged Sen. Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) in the Democratic primary last spring, Andrews was unequivocal on one subject: It was the Senate or nothing for him.

Andrews told anyone who asked, including his home state media and The Washington Post, in several interviews that he would not try to take back his House seat if he lost to Lautenberg.

"I'm not running for the House," he told us in an April interview.

Well, that was then. Lautenberg beat Andrews by an almost 2 to 1 margin in June, and on Wednesday the New Jersey press reported that Andrews would indeed make a move to secure his House seat again. "It's my very specific understanding that this is the decision he's made,'' Michael Murphy, an Andrews adviser, told the Newark Star-Ledger.

A news conference is scheduled for today, at which Andrews is supposed to announce his intentions.

The move is possible because Andrews's wife won the Democratic primary to succeed him in the heavily Democratic district around Camden. Party insiders were abuzz last spring that the switch would happen, with her stepping aside and allowing local party bosses to select her replacement: her husband. But Andrews's denials were so absolute that some thought he would go into political retirement. Reports even surfaced that he was close to landing a private-sector job.

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