By Amanda Ruggeri, Washington Whispers
Missing in all the coverage yesterday dominated by President Obama's press conference and his economic team seeking expanded bank-seizing authority was the craziness at the AIG hearings before Rep. Barney Frank's Financial Services Committee. The setting: Before the committee were Fed chief Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner talking about the economy and their bank plan. Behind them in the audience were the always outspoken CodePink women, an antiwar grass-roots organization that has expanded its attentions from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to dogging Democrats on economic policies.
As the hearing began, CodePink started to protest. Frank interrupted not one, but both, of the headlined witnesses to admonish the protesters in the room. Frank hated their signs and their outbursts, questioning if they understood the seriousness of his business.
"The next one to hold the sign up, it is distracting to people. I understand that there are some people for whom rational discussion is not an appropriate means of repressing themselves. You are entitled to do that in general, but not in a way that interrupts those of us who are trying to have rational discussion, so the next one to hold a sign will be ejected. I do not know how you think you advance any cause to which you might be attached by this kind of silliness," said a stern Frank.
When they agitated behind Geithner, Frank erupted. "Geithner, will you stop, please? Will you please act your age back there? Stop playing with that sign. If you have no greater powers of concentration, then you leave the room. We're trying to have a serious discussion, which will include, as you understand, a lot of criticism. We really need people to grow up."
Clearly, CodePink got to Frank, who just a week ago gently poked fun at Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania for criticizing the group at another hearing. At that one, Kanjorski halted the grilling of AIG chief Edward Liddy to give the protesters a dressing-down. "I think you've tried my patience," he said, glowering. "Now, the pink ladies, the signs are either going to be removed from the room, or you are going to be removed from the room. . . . Officers, take the signs." The women handed them over, not without flashing them for the cameras as they did so.
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman," Frank said as Kanjorski, with that out of the way, turned the hearing over to the Massachusetts congressman. "Given your method of dealing with this, I'm glad nobody [on the committee] was wearing a T-shirt."