As the long debate over President Reagan’s record-breaking defense budget dragged on and on, Jake Garn, 50, a Republican Senator from Utah, grew irked, then incensed, then irate. Finally, he rose to his feet and vented his senatorial spleen in stentorian voice. “I am angry!” he thundered. “I am angry at this body. I am angry at Congress! And I do not care which party—Republicans or Democrats—because they are weak-kneed gutless politicians on both sides who will not face up to the issues or the problems of this economy.”
Garn’s outburst shocked the Senate, but his statement no doubt reflects the mood of a sizable segment of the country. Americans have long been ambivalent toward—if not hostile to—their duly elected representatives. “It could probably be shown by facts and figures,” Mark Twain observed with characteristic hyperbole, “that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” Indeed, the record of behavior lately in Congress—with sex, drug and tax evasion scandals—would probably do little to alter Twain’s opinion. In the belief that even arrogance and incompetence can be entertaining, PEOPLE presents a random sampling of a few of the low points, silly utterances and dubious achievements on the Hill.
Let He Who Is Without Sin…
Freshman Sen. Don Nickles, 33 (R-Okla.), nominated three U.S. marshals to be appointed for his state. Among their duties: enforcement of court orders in bankruptcy cases. To Nickles’ chagrin, one of his nominees was discovered to be bankrupt himself. He lost the $39,689-a-year job. Nickles, however, kept his.
A Place for Wimps and Turkeys?
At 29, John LeBoutillier (R-N.Y.), the youngest Congressman, has already earned a reputation for inane ad hominem attacks on his colleagues. In LeBoutillier’s first term in office, the author of Harvard Hates America managed to alienate leaders of both parties. He called Sen. Pat Moynihan “a drunken bum.” He said House Speaker Tip O’Neill was like the federal government, “big, fat and out of control.” And he called Sen. Charles Percy a “wimp,” a “turkey” and “a living disaster area with almost no redeeming features.” To quell rumors that he possesses a talent for little but name-calling, LeBoutillier has proposed a novel solution to the problem of crime: In a television commercial this fall, he advocates sending hardened criminals to a sparsely populated island off the Alaskan coast.
Sen. Jeremiah Denton, 58 (R-Ala.), made a credible case that husbands who sexually assault their wives ought to be prosecuted under assault charges instead of rape charges. “Dammit,” Denton said in a thoughtless aside that damaged his case, “when you get married, you kind of expect you’re going to get a little sex.”
Let Them Eat Leftovers
Freshperson Sen. Paula Hawkins, 55 (R-Fla.), threw a lavish luncheon to celebrate her “major legislative initiative.” The steaks were succulent, the asparagus delicious, the apple pie scrumptious. After the meal, Hawkins rose to outline her legislative crusade: a measure to prevent what she described as food stamp abuses.
Let Them Lick Stamps
Speaking of stamps, Sen. Edward Zorinsky, 53 (D-Nebr.), boasted that his staff members steamed uncanceled stamps off incoming mail for later reuse—until he was informed that the practice is illegal.
The Pell Tolls for Thee
Sen. Claiborne Pell, 63 (D-R.I.), is his party’s ranking member on the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, though by all accounts he lacks any feel for his subject. One Senate aide politely describes him as “far removed from the common man’s view of the world, with a 19th-century foreign policy.” Pell, who comes from old Rhode Island money, has been known to dress in finery that once belonged to his grandfather, and once stopped a committee meeting short with reminiscences about the wonderful nanny who brightened his childhood. But he is best known for his administration of self-inflicted wounds. Quizzing an ambassadorial nominee to a friendly South Pacific island nation, Pell warned: “Don’t let them [the natives] like you so much that they eat you up.”
Batten Down, Hatch
After six years in the Senate, Orrin Hatch, 48 (R-Utah), has been more successful in gaining publicity for his New Right causes than in shepherding them through Congress. One of the more insufferable stem-winders on the Hill, he earned the sobriquet Borin’ Orrin. “You know,” he once told a reporter, “when you get to know me, you’ll find out I’m not the jerk you think I am.” Some veteran colleagues are not so sure.