The House came back into session Tuesday. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) picked up right where they left off nearly two weeks ago before the Memorial Day Break.
Pelosi was happy to talk about anything but her allegations that the CIA lied to her about interrogation techniques. And Boehner remained fixated on what proof the Speaker had that government spooks failed to tell her the truth.
In politics, this is known as “staying on message.”
Pelosi spent most of the recess traveling through China and discussing climate change. Before the recess, the Speaker made it clear to reporters that she would answer no more questions about the CIA controversy. And when Pelosi returned this week, the Speaker’s schedule seemed to reflect a determination to avoid the subject and focus on other important issues.
Pelosi held a photo-op with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on health care reform. She accepted the “Legislator of the Year” Award from the Task Force on American Innovation. The Speaker appeared at a news conference with other lawmakers who accompanied her to China. The CIA tempest was the proverbial elephant in the room. Yet nary a reporter dared to probe the Speaker on this topic.
Either the reporters were cowed. Or they had moved on.
John Boehner had not.
“She’s done nothing to address the damage that she’s left by her unsupported accusations,” thundered Boehner at his news conference less than an hour after returning to Washington “She should retract that statement and offer and apology.”
No fool he, Boehner watched Pelosi struggle through her roughest period as Speaker two weeks ago. And for a party clawing to forge a new identity against a popular president, the Speaker could potentially provide the GOP a robust foil. At the very least, Boehner knows that targeting the liberal Pelosi is juicy, red meat to the core conservatives.
“My colleagues and I are prepared to continue to press this issue until it is resolved,” Boehner said, attempting to rekindle the embers that singed Pelosi at what was widely regarded as a disastrous press conference three weeks ago.
But Pelosi isn’t taking the bait. And so far, neither is the Capitol Hill press corps. Instead, the Speaker is lifting a page from the playbook of Sgt. Frank Drebin (played by the incomparable Leslie Nielsen) in the fabled “Naked Gun” comedies. In one of the films, someone drives a car into a gasoline tanker truck and simultaneously launches a cruise missile into an fireworks factory. Plumes of smoke and towers of fire erupt from the fireworks plant. It’s unmitigated chaos. Yet Nielsen’s character comes along to shoo away the onlookers.
“Move on! Nothing to see here! Please disperse! Nothing to see here!,” Nielsen tells the crowd.
Pelosi insists she’s addressed the CIA dustup and “there’s nothing to see here.” And at Tuesday’s briefing, the press apparently followed her admonition and “moved along.”
Pelosi informed the scribes that she’d “be pleased to take any questions that you have.” But no one tested her on the CIA spat. Reporters queried the Speaker about the Obama Administration’s policy on releasing photos of detainees, budget deficits, whether the U.S. was now a “debtor” nation, the rate of speed on the climate bill, what was the biggest change she saw in China and about a resolution marking the 20th anniversary of the Chinese crackdown at Tiananmen Square
Meantime Boehner continued playing his one-note adagio.
“(Pelosi) made the accusation. And she should either back that accusation or she should apologize,” said the Republican Leader
A few hours later, a contingent of science and technology field workers packed a room in the Capitol Visitor’s Center to laud Pelosi with their “Legislator of the Year” honor. They nibbled on bits of Manchego cheese sipped a Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County while waiting for the Speaker’s arrival.
Craig Barrett, the outgoing chairman of the Intel Corporation praised Pelosi for her “power, her perception and her pushiness” to fund research and technology. He told the group how he once overheard a reporter ask the Speaker what was essential to jumpstarting the economy. Barrett said Pelosi told the journalist the keys were “science, science, science.”
Barrett then said that he thought the key was “Pelosi, Pelosi, Pelosi.”
The crowd laughed.
Barrett and John Boehner share something in common: both see Nancy Pelosi as passports to their respective futures. A senior Republican aide says that with Congress back, the House GOP will “continue to press” the CIA case.
“We’re not going to let her go,” the aide confided.
So as Congress moves into the long, hot summer of spending bills and grappling with health care and climate change legislation, listen for House Republicans to appropriate Barrett’s manta of “Pelosi, Pelosi, Pelosi.” The question for the GOP is whether “Pelosi, Pelosi, Pelosi” is as galvanizing as a few weeks ago. And whether reporters have pulled a Leslie Nielsen and “moved along.”
- Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He’s won an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.