Chuck and Them

So, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who is your ideal choice to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate?

"I’m keeping counsel strictly to the governor," Mr. Schumer tells this columnist. "As Governor David Paterson has said, nothing will be decided until Senator Clinton is approved as the next secretary of state."

Much has been written of late about how New York’s senior senator had finally come to grips with the undying celebrity surrounding Mrs. Clinton and her junior New York Senate seat, only to yield now to so much speculation and hype that Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, is waiting in the wings as the Senate’s next attention-grabber.

SENATOR AGAIN

Two months ago, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain was mobbed by crowds everywhere he stepped.

Now, following the swearing in of the 111th Congress, it was a rather melancholy Arizona Republican, now a full-time senator again, quickly traversing the basement tunnels of the U.S. Capitol en route to his office. A lone aide struggled to keep pace behind him.

The senator’s thoughts at this juncture?

"I just spent some time with Howard Baker," replied Mr. McCain, speaking of the former Senate majority leader from Tennessee, now 83, who was on hand for the ceremony. "He was such a gentleman, so very courteous. He worked both sides of the aisle, trying to bring everybody together on whatever the issue was back then."

"And Mo Udall’s family was here. He was such a classy guy," the senator continued, referring to the late Arizona congressman who ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1976.

Finally, he made a point of saying: "I’m very sad to see John Warner leave." Speaking, of course, of the just-retired Republican senator from Virginia, who had sought bipartisan harmony with every measure introduced on Capitol Hill.

"It’s a different class today," this columnist pointed out.

"Let’s hope we get back to some of that," Mr. McCain answered.

WARNER TO WARNER

"It’s kind of like the first day of school. I’m still getting used to it," an enthused Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, told this columnist.

Mr. Warner in November won the seat of retiring Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican of no relation who served five terms in the Senate before deciding not to seek re-election.

"I am succeeding Senator John Warner, not replacing him," Mr. Warner made a point of stressing.

CALLING BARACK

Promises, promises . . .

"The 111th Congress is less than a week old, and already the first tax increase has been put on the table," complains Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), referring to a proposed 156 percent increase (61 cents) per-pack federal excise tax on cigarettes to fund a $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

"Remember the quote? ‘If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year, you will not see a single dime of your taxes go up’ (President-elect Barack Obama in the October 7 presidential debate)."

As many as 55 percent of American smokers are "working poor," according to ATR, with 1 in 4 living below the poverty line.

LINCOLN LOG

The Madison hotel on 15th Street Northwest is unveiling its own "Lincoln Bedroom" to commemorate the much-heralded inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president.

The unique room features a full-sized bed with decorative headboard and footboard, copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address, even a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite rocking chair.

Unlike Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda and the thousands of other presidential "friends" who have overnighted in the White House Lincoln Bedroom, guests filling the hotel suite get to take home a keepsake set of Madison towels personalized, "I Slept in the Lincoln Bedroom."

GEORGETOWN OUTRAGE

The president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 tells this columnist that the family organization is "outraged" that Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies has invited Libyan leader Moammar Gaddhafi to speak to the campus via satellite in a Jan. 21 videoconference.

"Three Georgetown graduates were murdered on that plane by Gadhafi’s operatives, and the ‘generous funding’ [for the conference] by Exxon Mobil just adds fuel to the fire," says Frank Duggan, the victims group president.

Meanwhile, this column obtained several letters sent to Georgetown President John DeGioia, including one from a 1991 university graduate, (his twin sisters also graduated Georgetown, in 1996), whose brother was among the 270 passengers killed in the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

"President DeGioia, in addition to my brother, there were also Georgetown alumni on the Pan Am 103 flight. How are we honoring these people when we allow the person behind their murder [to] talk about conflict resolution?" writes Mr. Flynn. "I ask you: Would you allow Osama bin Laden to speak?"

In another letter, Hafed Al Ghwell, a Libyan-American and longtime associate of the university’s Arab center, says if nothing else Georgetown should distribute copies of Col. Gadhafi’s "dismal human rights record … so your audience can have a sense of the history … of the speaker before them and grieve the tragic loss of direction of a once-credible Center for Arab Studies."

IN CLOSING

Restoring morale was at the top of his agenda when Michael V. Hayden was appointed to lead the CIA in 2006.

Now, as he prepares to step down two-plus years later, most would agree that Mr. Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency who retired only last year as an Air Force general, was everything his predecessor – former Florida Rep. Porter Goss, whose 18-month tenure at the helm of the CIA is best described as rocky – wasn’t.

Through congressional testimony and other channels, Mr. Hayden aired much of the CIA’s so-called "dirty laundry," including describing the spy agency’s interrogation and counterterrorism methods, procedures and policies.

One in house memo obtained by this columnist in 2008 had the CIA director reiterating to staff about waterboarding: "[T]his technique is not part of CIA’s current program, has been used in the past on only three detainees, has not been used for nearly five years, and the threat and operational circumstances under which it was previously used have changed dramatically."

Still, as President-elect Barack Obama announces his intentions to replace Mr. Hayden with former Rep. Leon Panetta of California, who also had served as chief of staff to President Clinton, there are still grumblings heard within the media and elsewhere that the agency hasn’t gone far enough to reassure a skeptical public.

"We’ve read and heard a lot over the past few days about the status of morale at CIA," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield now tells me. "A lot of this garbage appears to be coming from has-beens, wannabes or never-weres. Unnamed sources who suggest morale is low don’t have any idea what’s going on here … .

"CIA employees don’t spend a lot of time navel-gazing, pondering their fate, or feeling unappreciated. That’s not the culture here, nor is there time. They’re busy focusing on the mission and doing everything they can to help keep the country safe. That’s what the American people expect of us."

A 2008 survey of CIA employees had 88 percent of respondents describing the agency as the best of all possible places to work.

"If what I’m hearing from reporters is true about shrinking budgets, layoffs, closing of bureaus, etc., I would imagine that morale here is a heck of a lot higher than in most newsrooms these days," Mr. Mansfield concludes.

LIBERAL OVERDOSE
 
There’s a new chairman of the 100-plus-member House Republican Study Committee: Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a medical doctor by practice.  

"With complete liberal control of government, we are now presented both with an opportunity and an obligation to provide the American people with a clear, positive, conservative alternative to an irresponsible tax-hiking, ‘big government’ agenda," says Mr. Price.  

The congressman replaces outgoing chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. 

OVERHEARD  

That was Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and his wife, Susan Blumenthal, during the intermission of "West Side Story" at the National Theatre in Washington, likening the battling "Sharks" and "Jets" to fighting Hamas and Israeli soldiers. 

Or so the world would hope. In the musical, which runs through Jan. 17 prior to opening on Broadway, the warring New York City street gangs ultimately end the bloodshed and learn to co-exist. 

West Side Story made its world premiere at the National Theatre in 1957.


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