Schieffer: 'This is going to be fun'

This is the week that Bob Schieffer takes over from Dan Rather as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” But first, he has something really important to do. Schieffer, the network’s chief congressional correspondent and host of “Face the Nation,” will be in Abilene, Texas, tonight when his alma mater, Texas Christian University (TCU), names its school of journalism after him.

This is the week that Bob Schieffer takes over from Dan Rather as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” But first, he has something really important to do.

Schieffer, the network’s chief congressional correspondent and host of “Face the Nation,” will be in Abilene, Texas, tonight when his alma mater, Texas Christian University (TCU), names its school of journalism after him.

Then he’ll fly to New York to prepare for his debut on Thursday while network executives look for a successor or successors to Rather, whose retirement was hastened by his discredited report on President Bush’s military career last Sept. 8.

“This is something I know how to do,” Schieffer said last week. “This is really going to be fun. Nothing is more fun than trying to figure out what the top news is.”

But the 67-year-old Schieffer isn’t going to be just another pretty face on TV.

“I’m not going up there just to read the news,” he said. “I’ll be working with Jim Murphy, the executive producer, and I have an agreement with CBS that nothing will go on the program unless we both agree. That’s the agreement I’ve always had. That way I can say I take responsibility for the broadcasts. I think I owe that to the viewers.”

Schieffer, who is expected to occupy the CBS anchor chair for at least three or four months while continuing to host “Face the Nation,” has nearly a quarter-century’s experience as the CBS weekend anchor. He will be only the fourth person to head the network’s premier news program, following Rather, Walter Cronkite and Douglas Edwards.

But he doesn’t know how long he’ll be commuting between Washington and New York. “Nobody knows,” he said. “They asked me to do it for a while. They’re thinking of some radical changes,” including dual anchors.

Schieffer said he plans to acknowledge his beleaguered predecessor at the end of his broadcast, one day after Rather’s final appearance, but doesn’t “know exactly what I’m going to say.”

But first, he has some business to attend to at TCU, where he’ll be joined by former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, CNN’s Larry King, PBS’s Jim Lehrer, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and The New York Times’ Tom Friedman at the unveiling of the Schieffer School of Journalism. But not Rather.

Rohrabacher’s new dinner companion

Seemingly throwing caution to the wind, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) was seen dining last week with the now-radioactive Jack Abramoff.

A Hill spy saw the pair seated at Signatures, the Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant in which Abramoff still owns a majority stake.

Abramoff is under investigation by federal authorities and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for alleged improprieties in his work as a lobbyist.

So what were the two discussing? Rohrabacher did not say, but he certainly wasn’t about to make apologies for being there. “It’s too bad we live in a city that just because someone comes under attack all his friends disappear,” he said.

Despite the collapse of Abramoff’s lobbying business, his restaurant appears to be thriving. Although he had to close Stacks, a kosher Jewish deli, Signatures was packed wall to wall when he dined with Rohrabacher, as it is most weeknights.

However, sources say Abramoff may be signing off as Signatures’s majority owner in the coming months.

Wake for gonzo journalist turns political

Former Sens. George McGovern (D-S.D.) didn’t show up as expected, but Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and a half-dozen movie stars, including Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp and Josh Hartnett, did. And Jimmy Carter and former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) sent warm letters.

They were among some 200 of Hunter S. Thompson’s friends and family who paid tribute to the late gonzo journalist at the Jerome Hotel in Aspen, Colo., Saturday night after his suicide last month.

“It was Hunter 101, what you would expect from him,” said Curtis Robinson, a Washington public relations executive and former Aspen magazine publisher who was one of Thompson’s literary collaborators. “It was a full range of locals who knew him for years and some very famous people who were his friends.”

Robinson, a partner in Qorvis Communications, noted that Thompson’s daughter-in-law made an emotional appeal to continue Thompson’s crusade to free Lise Auman, a young Denver woman whom he felt had been unjustly sentenced to life in prison for murder after her skinhead boyfriend killed a Denver policeman.

“Leave it to Hunter to have his wake become a political rally,” Robinson added.

Robinson said a public memorial service will be held in Aspen in July, probably on Thompson’s 68th birthday, when his ashes will be shot out of a 110-foot cannon, as he wished.

Spokane versus Seattle

The divide between the urban, coastal part of Washington state and its rural eastern half rivals any red-blue divide in the country.

So much so, in fact, that if Republican state Sen. Bob Morton has his way, the part of Washington east of the Cascade Mountains will secede and form a 51st state.

Such a plan has been floated before, but this time anger over the recent, bitterly contested governor’s race has drawn more attention to the idea.

As for Washington’s representatives in D.C., they’re not backing the proposal, but they’re not exactly rejecting it out of hand either.

Rep. Cathy McMorris, a freshman Republican who represents the eastern portion of the state, including Spokane and Walla Walla, said, “It’s at least allowing legislators to have a conversation about the challenges that face the more rural areas.”
Urban areas “have so many more votes,” she said, and “it would get us more representation in the Senate,” given that eastern states are much smaller.

Even if it did pass the state Legislature, such a plan would need to be approved by Congress.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Doc Hastings (R), who represents the central part of the state and the city of Yakima, said the congressman “believes the idea can be useful in starting a conversation,” but he doesn’t think the plan is going anywhere.

“We’re a long way off from it even being discussed here,” she said.

The Oberstar fundraiser was a gamy affair

Rep. Jim Oberstar, dean of the Minnesota congressional delegation, held his 20th annual Washington fundraiser last week, and it was one of the rare events on Capitol Hill where the food was more interesting than the people who came to help fill his campaign coffers.

Oberstar, who is running for a 16th term next year, offered his benefactors a panoply of foods native to his northeastern Minnesota district that are seldom found in Washington, including walleye pike, Lake Superior smoked trout, elk, moose, venison and wild rice.

Two of Oberstar’s constituents brought the food and did the cooking: Norman Deschamps, tribal chairman of the Grand Portage band of Ojibway, and Mert Lego of Federal Dam, Minn.

Some 200 people, including Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Marty Sabo (D-Minn.), along with almost every lobbyist whose clients have issues before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (where Orberstar is the ranking member), showed up.

If Nancy did call, what would she say?

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), a key member of the House Ways and Means Committee, says that one key roadblock to enacting Social Security reform is “the nature of the political dialogue” and the election-style campaign that’s cropped up around the issue.

For evidence, she looks no further than her own voice mail at home in Connecticut.

“I’ve gotten two calls to my home,” she said last week — “recordings telling me to call myself” to oppose the GOP-led reforms.

One was from AFSCME; the other from the AFL-CIO.

Stork visits aides to Reps. Coble, Boozman

Anna Sagely, legislative director for Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), and Matt Sagely, chief of staff for Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), welcomed a new addition to their family late last month.

Charles Kenneth Sagely was born Feb. 26 at 2:34 p.m., weighing in at 8 pounds and measuring 21 inches long.

Mother, father and baby are all doing well, according to Coble’s office.
“We are delighted to welcome Charlie Sagely to what we affectionately call ‘Team Coble,’” the 11th-term congressman said. “We will miss his mom while she is on maternity leave, but perhaps in a few years we will put Charlie to work in serving the citizens of the 6th District.”