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Schmidt in war of words Rookie lawmaker's 'coward' remarks ricochet

Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Schmidt in war of words
Rookie lawmaker's 'coward' remarks ricochet

By Malia Rulon
Enquirer Washington Bureau

Photo Credit: unknown

Excerpts from the House Rules and Manual:

"In the practice of the House, a member is not permitted to refer to another member by name, or to address him in the second person. The proper reference to another member is 'the gentleman (or gentlewoman) from ...,' naming the member's state.

"By rule of the House, as well as by parliamentary law, personalities are forbidden, whether against the member in the member's capacity as representative or otherwise, even if the references may be relevant to the pending question. The House has censured a member for gross personalities. The chair may intervene to prevent improper references where it is evident that a particular member is being described. The chair does not rule on the veracity of a statement made by a member in debate. Although accusing another member of deceit engages in personality, merely accusing another member of making a mistake does not.

"A member may not read in debate extraneous material critical of another member, which would be improper if spoken in the member's own words."

For more House rules:


Actress Rachel Dratch of NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live" portrays Rep. Jean Schmidt of Clermont County as a laughingstock lawmaker.

WASHINGTON - Three days after Rep. Jean Schmidt was booed off the House floor for saying that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do," the Ohioan she quoted disputed the comments.

Danny Bubp, a freshman state representative who is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, told The Enquirer that he never mentioned Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., by name when talking with Schmidt, and he would never call a fellow Marine a coward.

"The unfortunate thing about all of that is that her choice of words on the floor of the House - I don't know, she's a freshman, she had one minute.

"Unfortunately, they came out wrong," said Bubp, R-West Union.

Lawmakers were in the midst of a passionate debate Friday over whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, an issue pushed to a vote by Republicans after public comments from Murtha.

Schmidt - decked out in a red-white-and-blue suit that resembled the U.S. flag - went to the floor and quoted from a telephone conversation with Bubp: "He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course.

"He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: That cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

The comment drew a chorus of boos and shouting from Democrats.

It's unclear whether Schmidt, who will start her 79th day in the House today, knew at the time of her remarks that Murtha had served 37 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve.

She immediately took back her remarks. It's against House rules to refer to a fellow lawmaker by name or to criticize them.

Schmidt, a Republican from Clermont County's Miami Township, then wrote to Murtha to explain that she has a lot to learn and did not mean to disparage his service.

Bubp, who has served in the Marine Corps Reserve for 27 years, including three years of active duty, said he called Schmidt on Friday afternoon to discuss the resolution that called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq - not to talk about Murtha.

The House nonbinding resolution failed by a 403-3 vote.

"There was no discussion of him personally being a coward or about any person being a coward," Bubp said. "My message to the folks in Washington, D.C., and to all the Congress people up there, is to stay the course. We cannot leave Iraq or cut and run - any terminology that you want to use."

Still, Bubp said the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.

On 'Saturday Night Live'

Since the remarks on Friday, Schmidt has been in headlines around the world, the subject of a "Saturday Night Live" skit, and discussed on countless blogs.

"I could just imagine how nervous she must have been on the floor with everyone watching," Bubp said. "I don't want to be interjected into this. I wish she never used my name."

Schmidt's chief of staff, Barry Bennett, said the congresswoman may have mentioned Murtha by name but she was referring to Murtha's call to bring U.S. troops home - not Murtha himself.

Schmidt declined to explain her comments directly to The Enquirer on Monday. She also skipped two previously scheduled appearances in Cincinnati - on a local radio show and at a reception in honor of outgoing Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken.

That didn't stop Enquirer readers, bloggers, Democrats and Schmidt supporters from continuing to react to her remarks. Some said they were embarrassed by her comments, while others praised her for taking a stand.

"How dare this idiot call John Murtha, a war hero, a coward. I am ashamed to be from her district," Gregory Moore, a 39-year-old lawyer from Batavia, said in an e-mail.

Chris Finney, a Cincinnati lawyer who led an anti-tax group in opposing Schmidt during her recent special election, said the politics of negativity and name-calling should be a thing of the past.

"People want someone who can get things done," Finney said. "She's an embarrassment to this district."

Several bloggers called on Schmidt and Bubp to apologize and resign their offices. Others compared her remarks with a statement she made minutes after she was sworn in on Sept. 6.

"I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name-calling or the questioning of character," Schmidt said then. "It is easy to quickly sink to the lowest form of political debate. Harsh words often lead to headlines, but walking this path is not a victimless crime. This great House pays the price."

Sarah Feinburg of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Schmidt's remarks could attract Republicans to oppose her in next year's primary election or encourage Democrats to run. Freshmen typically are the most vulnerable lawmakers in elections.

"We're starting to talk to folks in the district about running against her," Feinburg said. "Jean Schmidt's been in Congress less than three months and she's already managed to alienate the entire House of Representatives, not to mention every veteran. ... She hasn't shown herself to be an asset for the district."

But some Republicans are praising Schmidt.

"We stand behind her sentiments," said Brad Greenberg, executive director of the Hamilton County Republican Party. "I don't believe that Jean Schmidt intended to attack (Murtha) personally. I understand that people felt that she was attacking him, but I don't believe that, in her heart, she meant to."

Rep. Steve Chabot, a Westwood Republican, also defended Schmidt.

"It's easy when you're new to do or say things that in retro you wish you didn't say or had said differently," he said.

Schmidt's phone lines have been clogged since Saturday, and the office has received about 3,000 e-mails on the topic, Bennett said. The office reads mail only from constituents, however, and Bennett said the reaction from people in the 2nd District has been 75 percent positive.

Calls to Schmidt's Ohio office were 65 percent positive, Bennett said. He declined to say how many e-mails or calls were from constituents.

Mark Sutton of Loveland said in an e-mail to Schmidt's office, which was also sent to The Enquirer, that Schmidt just stated what many people have been afraid to say. "Pulling out of Iraq would be the cowardly thing to do, and I am surprised that your comments created such a stir," Sutton wrote. "You need not apologize. ... You have my support."

Vice President Dick Cheney praised Murtha on Monday, becoming the latest senior Republican to back off attacks on him.

Cheney called Murtha a "a good man, a Marine, a patriot," echoing President Bush's praise for him the day before.

But Cheney kept the heat on critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, saying those who advocate a quick pullout are engaged in a "dangerous illusion" if they think that it will end terrorism or make America safer.

Decorated war veteran

Murtha, a lawmaker since 1974 and a Vietnam veteran who received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he doesn't hold Schmidt responsible.

"This is a new member, and sometimes they give her something to say that ... they get out of hand. I try not to take this stuff personal," he said.

Enquirer reporter Gregory Korte and the Knight Ridder News Service contributed to this story



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