Dan Burton, Protecting the House From Terrorists (Alone)
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) is still tilting at windmills, or large fruit as it were. Burton, whose infamous conspiracy theories during the Clinton years earned him the nickname "Watermelon Dan," is at it again.
Last night he tried to offer one of the wackier amendments to the legislative branch appropriations bill - a measure that would order a cost benefit analysis of building a transparent shield around the House chamber to protect members from getting killed.
"What this bill does is it would authorize a study to look at enclosing the chamber, the gallery chamber, with Plexiglas so that somebody can't throw a bomb down on the floor and kill a lot of us," Burton explained in testimony before the House Rules Committee.
The committee, which sets debate time and decides which amendments may be made in order to legislation on the House floor, rejected Burton's measure despite the terrifying, albeit remote, possibility he described.
In making his case before the Rules Committee, Burton laid out in great detail - in a public meeting, for the record - how a terrorist "could come in and kill half of the members of Congress right now."
First, he said, you strap 10 pounds of explosives around your waist. "You could take a detonating device that looks like a watch so you could get through the metal detector," Burton said. "And when everybody was on the floor, as many as you wanted, you could put that into the plastic explosive, toss it out on the floor, and there is no way you would lose half of us if we were on the floor, at least, or more. I don't know how much damage it would do."
The solution? Enclosing the House chamber with Plexiglas, of course. "They do it in the Knesset in Israel," Burton said.
Before rejecting his amendment, members of the committee stared at Burton dumbfounded, according to sources in the room, as if wondering to themselves how to delicately explain to the Indiana Republican that he may be more in need of Xanax than Plexiglas.
Burton, for those who don't recall, is the lawmaker who was so determined to prove Vince Foster was murdered that he reenacted the crime he imagined, with a gun in his backyard and a cantaloupe standing in for Foster's head. And this is where we'd like to correct the historical record once and for all.
Many accounts of the incident say Burton used a pumpkin; others say it was a watermelon. But a former aide to the congressman assures the Sleuth that Burton used a cantaloupe to try to disprove Foster's suicide, which makes sense, since the melon is much closer to the size of a human head than either a watermelon or a pumpkin.
As for Burton's latest theory about how a terrorist might blow up the House of Representatives, no one on the Rules Committee, including Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), the panel's ranking Republican, seemed as alarmed as Burton had hoped they might be.
Dreier said he didn't like the idea of walling off the People's House. "I mean, I love being able to look up there and see these wonderful, wonderful people that the president has as guests in the gallery when he is delivering his State of the Union message, and we have others who are there," Dreier said.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) agreed he didn't want to see visitors to the gallery sitting behind Plexiglas.
"But my whole point is there ought to be some obstruction between the gallery and the members on the floor, because if they throw something down on that floor, they are going to get a lot of us," Burton interjected.
"I take your point, but I disagree in the final analysis," Hastings said. "I think when people set out to hurt you and they operate in the shadows, that they will figure a way. You show me a law, I will show you a loophole. You show me security, I will show you a way around it."
Researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report
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