Washington House Speaker Dennis Hastert apparently is so displeased with a Kansas congressman he wrote about the lawmaker in a new book.
Hastert didn't name names but was crystal clear about his target: Republican Rep. Jerry Moran.
The speaker's words call attention to a reputation for indecisiveness that has dogged Moran for years. It's unlikely to ever cost him the affection of Kansas constituents, who view him as independent and re-elect him by whopping margins.
The question Hastert's book raises is whether Moran's reputation has damaged his credibility in Congress.
The reputation has occasionally made him the butt of jokes: "I am here tonight because neither Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears or Bob Dole could make it," Sen. Pat Roberts told Republicans at the party's annual Kansas Day gathering in 2002. "Actually, both Jerry Moran and I received invitations, but he couldn't decide."
However, Hastert's book makes clear that House leaders are not amused by Moran's behavior.
Hastert tells this story in his book, "Speaker," about the vote on Medicare prescription drug legislation, which passed by only five votes after the longest roll call in House history:
"Some members had assured me that they would be with us, but when the crunch came, they weren't," Hastert wrote. "One prairie state Member, a fourth-term Representative from a solidly Republican district, voted no, then ran and hid. I sent people to find him; they couldn't. Representative Tom Osborne, a Republican from Nebraska, went to look for him to no avail."
It's remarkable that Hastert would single out for criticism a fellow Republican in an election year, said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
"There could be one answer, stupidity, and that doesn't fit," Hess said. "The other is that this just burns him, this just sticks in his throat. It's not something you put out at midnight and hope nobody will notice. This is a very important thing to Denny Hastert, publishing this book."
In an interview, Moran said the passage "makes no sense to me." What bothers him most, Moran said, is the idea he misled anybody, "because I was pretty straightforward on this issue."
He also doesn't believe he was in anybody's doghouse, Moran said, because Hastert subsequently invited him on a trip to Normandy for the D-Day anniversary and has not mentioned the issue in conversations on the House floor.
"It makes me think that it's not me," Moran added, "but I don't know who it is. I've not followed up with anybody to say, 'Who are you talking about?"'
Moran said he didn't feel like sticking around that night for "all of the arm-twisting."
"It wasn't as if we would have an intellectual or policy debate on why this bill was a good idea. It would have been all about just intimidation.
"So it wasn't running and hiding. It was, I stayed around for a while, came back to the office and ultimately went to the airport to catch my early-morning flight."
Implication is clear
Hastert left no question whom he meant.
Twenty-five Republicans opposed Hastert. Three are four-termers. Two of them are men, as Hastert indicated. They are Moran and his fellow Kansas Republican, Rep. Jim Ryun. It definitely was not Ryun, who remained in the thick of things all night on the House floor.
Moran, on the other hand, voted and left the chamber swiftly, so swiftly that a colleague chased after him but couldn't catch up, according to two Republican members and four aides. The lawmakers and staff asked not to be quoted for this story, although one GOP aide who was on the House floor that night agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
"He voted pretty early and ran pretty quick," the aide said. "Several members alerted leadership he'd run from the floor, including at least one who tried to chase him."
"You see this pattern a lot," said Burdett Loomis, a Kansas University political scientist who has watched Moran since his 1988 election to the Kansas Senate.
"It is just his personality," Loomis said. "This is a guy who, I think, legitimately has a hard time making up his mind, both in terms of what good policy is, and maybe simultaneously in terms of what good politics is."
Loomis drew a contrast to Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of neighboring Missouri, who held out on an earlier Medicare vote, then struck a bargain to switch her vote in exchange for full House consideration of allowing Americans to buy prescription medicine abroad.
"If you're on the fence, and you're good at it, you can get stuff," Loomis said. "But if you're just on the fence and are engaging in this avoidance behavior, your reputation's going to suffer, and it's probably a net cost.
"Moran, at least so far, has never seen any penalty for this behavior, even though people just sort of roll their eyes."