Sen. Hatch's Hybrid Hummer

Sen. Hatch's wild ride was a green one -- he piloted a 100-mpg Hummer.
Sen. Hatch's wild ride was a green one -- he piloted a 100-mpg Hummer. (By Adam Berry -- Bloomberg News)
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, May 21, 2009

Those standing on Delaware Avenue NE outside the Capitol yesterday afternoon probably have no idea how close they came to witnessing a tragedy.

Sen. Orrin Hatch was test-driving a plug-in hybrid Hummer H3, and the 75-year-old Utah Republican was having some technical difficulties.

"How do you start this baby?" Hatch asked of the executives who built the 100-mile-per-gallon SUV.

"It's started," an official told Hatch.

"It's already on?" Hatch asked, surprised. "Heh, heh."

"Put your foot on the brake, then put it in drive," the official said. Nothing happened. "Is your foot on the brake? You have to have your foot on the brake."

"I think I've got it on," the senator replied.

"Nope," the executive said, pointing out the brake pedal. "There we go."

"No wonder," Hatch said. "I had it on the gas."

Oh, dear.

With a whine and a lurch, the Hummer began to accelerate, and for a few terrifying moments, Hatch was in control of the bright-red 5,000-pound truck. Well, not entirely in control. "All I've got to do is smash that car, I'll tell ya," he said of a vehicle in his path. The questions he asked were unsettling: "Squeeze that button? . . . Do I park it this way? . . . I'm going to miss the curb? . . . Is there a reverse?"

Spotting a Capitol Police car, he speculated, "They're probably looking at me." Eyeing some photographers near the car, Hatch allowed that he was "a little bit concerned" for their safety. When one got too close, Hatch muttered: "That guy's really got some guts to stand there."

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