02/16/04 — Surprise witness: Colin Powell holds his own before congressional panel

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Surprise witness: Colin Powell holds his own before congressional panel

Colin Powell is normally an easygoing man in public, calm under stress, deliberate, courteous and rational. Congressman Sherrod Brown obviously thought he could pull the secretary of state into a political controversy.

Powell was testifying last week before the House International Relations Committee about the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Brown, an Ohio Democrat, thought he’d take the opportunity to bring up President Bush’s National Guard service, an issue that he and his fellow Democrats are politicizing. It had nothing to do with the subject of the hearing.

Earlier, Powell had shown there are limits to his patience when he saw a Democratic congressional staffer shaking his head at the secretary’s comments, as in disbelief.

“Are you shaking your head for something, young man, back there? Are you part of these proceedings?” he asked.

Brown chimed in: “Mr. Chairman, I've never heard a witness reprimand a staff person in the middle of a question.”

Said Powell: “I seldom come to a meeting where I am talking to a congressman and I have people aligned behind you giving editorial comment by headshakes.”

Later, Brown said to Powell: “You are one of the very few people in this administration that understands war. We have a president who may have been AWOL.”

“First of all, Mr. Brown,” said Powell, “I won't dignify your comments about the president because you don't know what you are talking about.”

“I am sorry, I don't know what you mean, Mr. Secretary,” said Brown.

“You made a reference to the president,” Powell said.

“I say he may have been AWOL,” Brown replied.

“Mr. Brown, let’s not go there. Let’s not go there in this hearing. If you want to have a political fight on this matter, that is very controversial, and I think is being dealt with by the White House, fine. But let’s not go there,” Powell said.

Usually, witnesses before congressional committees are humble and servile. It was refreshing to see someone stand his ground — especially a person with Powell’s usually quiet demeanor.

It was also good to see, finally, someone attack the head-shaking and eye-rolling that has been going on during hearings and speeches in the last few years. One notable mugger was Sen. Ted Kennedy during last month’s State of the Union Address.

Right on, Mr. Secretary!

Published in Editorials on February 16, 2004 12:27 PM