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Sen. Inhofe is not an X-Man

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 9:47 AM

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) was flying his twin-engine Cessna 340 down to Port Isabel, Tex., on Thursday, headed to his house on South Padre Island. It's something he's done every so often for the past 50 years.

There were these huge (60 feet long by 10 feet wide) yellow X's on the main runway, which aren't there to mark the landing spot. The big signs were laid out to indicate that the runway was closed. There were workmen painting and doing general maintenance on the runway.

Inhofe, who was traveling with three others, told us Tuesday that he was "getting ready to land, then I saw a big X," and the workers and equipment. So he flew the six-seater over the workers and landed "well off to the side," he said.

Runway closures and other important information are highlighted in what's called a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, which all pilots are supposed to read before take-off. Inhofe said he "didn't have a NOTAM."

An airport official - "he hates me, I don't know why," Inhofe said - apparently was none too pleased with the use of a closed runway.

"I called the [Federal Aviation Administration] when I landed to tell them what had happened" and to see whether there was any problem, he said Tuesday. Since there was no accident, there appeared to be no significant problem, he said.

Inhofe, by the way, has been flying GOP candidates around their states to help them campaign.

On Sunday, Inhofe headed back home - but not without incident. Fortunately, he didn't try to take off on the closed runway. Actually, he didn't try to take off on any of the four bi-directional runways at the airport. He chose instead to use a taxiway.

"I really didn't have a choice," he explained, "given the size of the plane. The taxiway is very wide and long, better than the rough runways" at that airport. "There was no alternative," he said. And he notified the airport official that he intended to use the taxiway.

But landing on a closed runway and using a taxiway to take off could be considered major no-nos by the FAA, which can suspend Inhofe's pilot's license if it decides there have been serious infractions. Such a decision would be appealable to the National Transportation Safety Board. The FAA declined to comment.

In practice, though, suspensions are not often imposed, we're told, unless the infractions involved criminal activity - drugs, for example - or injuries or were intentional.

Pilots may voluntarily file a report to explain what happened and that usually suffices to end the matter.

Inhofe's best bet, though, might be to make sure the Republicans win the Senate next week so he can be chairman of the Transportation aviation subcommittee.

License for life.

No awkwardness leaks

A half-dozen or so State Department reporters were invited recently to sit in on a taping that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was doing with historian Michael Beschloss for an HBO special. (Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger was to have been there, too, but he wasn't feeling well.)

The reporters, all regulars who travel with Clinton, had hoped to see a bit of a debate between Clinton and Kissinger. They quickly concluded that Clinton wasn't going to commit any news.

But then Beschloss asked her whether there were any awkward moments since she became secretary, and could we find out now without having to wait for declassification decades from now.

Clinton declined to give any details, but she acknowledged: "There have been awkward moments and some embarrassing moments. Luckily, none of them have found their way into the press. I'm not going to change that now. When you travel as much

as I do and my team does, when you are working as hard as we are, there is obviously going to be glitches along the way.

"But we are pretty resilient. We try to recover quickly and act as if it was all meant to be."

Now that got the reporters' attention. Moments? What moments?

They thought they'd gotten pretty much everything.

Let's see, there was the trip to China where she said human rights didn't matter so much. And there was the trip to Africa where she snapped: "I'm not channeling my husband."

And who can forget her discussion about an "insurgency" and "inter-tribal warfare" in Mexico. (She was not talking about Jacinto Pat and the Mayan Caste War, but about the drug wars.)

The reporters shouldn't feel bad. Clinton's ability to "recover quickly" and act like everything was fine is extraordinary. Take the time when Peruvian President Alan Garcia stiffed her at a scheduled news conference in Lima.

The room, our colleague Glenn Kessler reported at the time, was set with a table and two microphones and the flags of both nations.

Garcia and Clinton walked in together but Garcia didn't sit down. He made a lengthy statement at the side of the table and walked out. As the statement was translated into English, the chair and mike for Garcia were taken away as Clinton sat there.

She then graciously hailed Peru's progress and apologized "for keeping him so late that he was behind in his schedule." Then she left without taking questions.

See? Exactly as "it was all meant to be."

O'Connor makes her case

It's 1 a.m. and Sandra Day O'Connor is on the line.

Or at least she was, for 50,000 Nevadans who got a late-night robo-call from the former Supreme Court justice, our colleague Bob Barnes reports. She's honorary chairman of a state group advocating a ballot question that judges be appointed rather than elected. It's been O'Connor's pet cause since she left the court in 2006.

O'Connor's calls were supposed to be placed at 1 p.m., but the placement 12 hours later - or is it earlier? - did get attention.

Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a frequent O'Connor critic, said she shouldn't make such calls at any time of the day. While retired from the high court, O'Connor still serves on appeals courts around the country, and Whelan wrote on his blog, at nationalreview.com, that her activity violates a cannon barring judges from engaging in political activities. He notes another allows judges to participate in "activities concerning the law."

The Nevada group fired its telemarketer and says it "will be calling to apologize for the inexcusable disturbance."

Is that a threat?

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