View Full Version : "Mean Jean" Goes To Washington, And Invites A Firestorm

11-20-2005, 07:10 PM

'Mean Jean' Goes to Washington, and Invites a Firestorm

by Jason DeParle


WASHINGTON (Nov. 19) - She grew up in the rough-and-tumble of a family auto racing business, went through concealed-weapons training, and bears a local nickname seldom applied to shrinking violets: "Mean Jean."
So when Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, created a furor on her 75th day in Congress by lobbing the word "coward" toward a Democratic war hero, those who know her best were anything but surprised.

Just this week, a profile in The Hill newspaper, which covers Congress, labeled her "gloriously uncensored." Back home in her suburban Cincinnati district, the Whistleblower, an online newsletter that tracks local politics, rushed out a special I-told-you-so issue calling the speech "vintage Jean Schmidt."

"We have said innumerable times that she would go to Washington and open her mouth and create an embarrassment," said Jim Schifrin, the newsletter's publisher. "She will say things that turn people off like nothing you've ever seen."

Among those seemingly turned off was Ms. Schmidt, who quickly asked that her words be withdrawn from the Congressional record, even as they made headlines worldwide.

The uproar arose Friday as the House debated a resolution calling for an immediate withdrawal of forces from Iraq.

In scheduling the vote, Republicans were trying to embarrass Democratic critics of the war, forcing them to dissociate themselves from a call earlier in the week for a slower but still definite withdrawal. That call came from Representative John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a Vietnam combat veteran who spent 37 years in the Marines and is one of the most respected military authorities in the House.

In attacking the Democrats' position, Ms. Schmidt, the newest member of Congress, said she had received a call from a Marine colonel, who "asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

The House exploded in catcalls and jeers among outraged Democrats. When debate resumed, Ms. Schmidt retracted her comments and said, "I did not intend to suggest they applied to any member," especially Mr. Murtha.

Ms. Schmidt could not be reached for comment on Saturday, with voice mailboxes full at all three of her offices. Her campaign manager did not return a phone call.

Several Republicans who were on the House floor said afterward that Ms. Schmidt did not appear to know she was referring to a much-decorated veteran.

"The poor lady didn't know Jack Murtha was a Marine - she really just ran into a hornet's nest," said Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia.

Representative David Dreier of California said, "Very clearly, she did not know that Jack Murtha was a Marine."

While the speech created a ruckus in Washington, it is not clear that it will hurt Ms. Schmidt back home, in a district that is one of the strongest Republican bastions in the country.
"She's got higher name recognition than she did yesterday," Mr. Schifrin said.

Ms. Schmidt squeaked into office in an election that many have called a fluke. The seat came open last spring when President Bush chose its incumbent, Rob Portman, as United States trade representative.

A three-term state representative, Ms. Schmidt, the only woman in a crowded primary race, won that vote with 31 percent and then barely edged out the Democrat Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran, despite the lopsided Republican tilt of the district. She is widely expected to be challenged in a Republican primary when she seeks a full term in 2006.

Then again, Ms. Schmidt, 53, is not one lacking in endurance. She counts among her achievements 58 marathons, the most recent completed in October. Her father, Gus Hoffman, was a race car driver, and she grew up boasting that she liked the smell of the racing pits.

In her district, Ms. Schmidt has competing political identities. On one hand, she is known as a tough street fighter - the tactical "Mean Jean."

Yet she has also been accused of not being Republican enough. Critics have called her a RINO - for Republican In Name Only - for supporting the unpopular Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican who has raised taxes.

Among Ms. Schmidt's chief political interests is abortion, which she strongly opposes.
"She's a very nice lady," said Jane Grimm, president of the Ohio Right to Life Society. "Jean's not afraid to stand up for what she believes in. I don't want to get into feminist lingo, but maybe because she's a woman they think she's mean, whereas if she was a man they'd say she was courageous."

The 100-proof speech on the House floor may shore up Ms. Schmidt's standing inside her party's right flank.

"I was listening to talk radio today, and people were calling in and praising her," said Chris Finney, a Cincinnati Republican allied with Ms. Schmidt's local rivals. "They like that jingoistic thinking."

11-21-2005, 07:28 AM
Among those seemingly turned off was Ms. Schmidt, who quickly asked that her words be withdrawn from the Congressional record, even as they made headlines worldwide.

I'm sorry... can you DO that? Isn't that like falsifying history and stuff?