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Dornan Rebuked After Diatribe Against Clinton

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County Rep. Robert K. Dornan, known for his caustic attacks against his political enemies, received his first sharp reprimand under the new GOP-controlled Congress on Wednesday for angrily denouncing President Clinton on the House floor.

Dornan (R-Garden Grove), who has often accused Clinton of avoiding the military draft during the Vietnam War, was stripped of his non-voting House floor privileges for 24 hours after claiming the President “gave aid and comfort to the enemy during the Vietnam War.”

The incident marked the first time in 21 years that House floor privileges were temporarily removed from a member of Congress, according to House records. The last time occurred in 1974 when then-House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. called a colleague’s action “a cheap, sneaky, sly way to operate,” during a debate over House procedures.

At the request of House Democratic leaders, Dornan’s remarks were ruled inappropriate by Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), who was presiding in the chamber during Dornan’s short speech. The attack on Clinton was stricken from the official record of House proceedings.

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Dornan’s temper had been simmering since Tuesday evening, when he watched Clinton introduce Congressional Medal of Honor winner Jack Lucas during the State of the Union address. Dornan said he found it “offensive” that Clinton had invited Lucas to sit next to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. He claimed that Lucas had been used as a “photo opportunity for Hillary Clinton.”

Describing himself after Clinton’s address as “not a happy camper,” Dornan said he preferred to watch the President on television in his office rather than walk across the street to the Capitol.

Still incensed when he reached the House floor Wednesday, Dornan publicly tore into Clinton, claiming he “avoided the draft three times and put teen-agers in his place” during the war.

“Clinton gave aid and comfort to the enemy during the Vietnam War,” Dornan said, drawing strong protests from House Democratic leaders.

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“I think the gentleman from California owes the entire institution, the Congress and the President an apology,” said Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We have to have a respect for the person who is our commander-in-chief.”

“Hell no!” Dornan fired back, refusing to apologize. “Hell no!”

Responding to the Democrats’ request that Dornan’s remarks be stricken from the record, Duncan obliged, ruling the speech inappropriate.

When Dornan refused to apologize, Duncan removed the congressman’s non-voting privileges after consulting with the House parliamentarian. Dornan was ordered to leave the floor for 24 hours. He was allowed to return only to cast a vote.

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House members have requested that Dornan’s words be stricken from the record nearly a dozen times in his 17 years in Congress, said Mike Kaspar, who has followed Dornan’s career and compiled a book of his quotations.

One incident received much attention during the height of the 1992 presidential campaign. Dornan made references to then-candidate Clinton as a “draft-dodger” and “womanizer” in a House floor speech.

Those remarks spurred an off-camera scuffle between Dornan and Rep. Bill Hefner (D-N.C.), Kaspar said.

Clinton has been a frequent target of Dornan’s verbal attacks. In various interviews, Dornan has called him “an illegitimate President” and “a nerdy little flower child,” Kaspar said.

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“It’s all or nothing with him on Clinton,” Kaspar said.

Wednesday’s incident did not prompt a floor debate or require voting by members, unlike last week, when House members locked horns along party lines after Rep. Carrie P. Meek (D-Fla.) raised questions about Speaker Newt Gingrich’s controversial book deal. Despite protests from Democrats, Meek’s comments were stricken from the record.

Dornan accepted his punishment with aplomb, engaging in radio talk show banter after being expelled and appearing on all three network newscasts. But he remained unrepentant.

“I am not taking those words back. It’s too important a point,” he said of his remarks about the President.

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Dornan said one of the top House leaders had asked him if he wanted to put his reprimand to a vote, with the likelihood that it would result in his favor. But Dornan said that the Republicans looked bad last week over Meeks’ comments about Gingrich and that he “was willing to take my discipline.”

Dornan seemed particularly pleased that he had made it into the nightly network newscasts on the day when O.J. Simpson’s defense team presented its highly anticipated opening statement.

During a radio interview, Atlanta talk show host Neal Boortz of WSB asked the congressman on the air, “You’re having the time of your life, aren’t you?”

“Well,” Dornan replied, “I’ve waited 40 years for this moment.”

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Lisa Richwine of States News Service contributed to this report.


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