"What's your take on this bailout package, Congresswoman Kang?"
"While it's not everything we desire, but it's probably the best compromise we could achieve at this time. Even the House Republicans are coming around to that point of view."
The reporter from CNN added, "That's pretty charitable, coming from someone who once said if she were on the banking committee, she'd make it mandatory for each leading Wall Street financier to take lie detector tests just like random drug testing."
There was a ripple of charged laughter that gave Kang a few seconds to come up with her rejoinder. "At the time my opponent blasted me for sounding like Torquemada. He even tried to sneak in a uncalled-for reference to a Dragon Lady." Kang colored her tone with the right mixture of indignation as she continued, modulating her voice back to its normal register.
"As it turns out, it seems I might have been too restrained in that suggestion." More laughter.
"Aren't the Democrats as much to blame for this mess, as Senator Obama has termed it, as the GOP?" another reporter asked. Kang had suddenly reappeared on the Hill last Monday as the financial crisis consumed headlines in all media. She immediately was able to immerse herself in the various caucuses taking place on both sides of the aisle to hammer at the proposal initially put forward by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. And thereby avoid questions, if not speculation among the punditry, as to her recent absence.
"I don't let people like Robert Rubin or President Clinton off the hook," Kang began, "but the fact remains that the American people rightly, by a two-to-one margin, lays this debacle at the feet of the Republicans." She gestured in a wide swath. "The middle class has taken it in the shorts these past eight years, if you'll allow me to use the colloquialism. Since President Bush has been in office, nearly 6 million taxpayers have slipped into poverty, median family income for working Americans has gone down by some $2,000, more than 7 million of our citizens have lost their health insurance, more than 4 million have lost pensions, and so on, with foreclosures at an all-time high.
"At the same time, the brokers and short-sellers, the speculators and shareholders did better than all right in this money jungle they constructed with little oversight or paper-thin regulation--with no regulation that wasn't written without a lobbyist's hand guiding the lawmaker's pen."
"Does this mean there's some truth in the rumor that's been floating around since your unexplained absence, that you're going to bolt your party in favor of a third one?" a reporter she recognized from the Washington Post asked. Kang pointed at her. "It means that we can't continue privatizing gains and socializing losses. John Thane, the chairman of Merrill Lynch, who's been on the job less than a year, got a signing bonus of $15 million. Before him at Merrill, Stan O'Neal, retired with something like $161 million worth of goodies. That's a hell of a golden parachute."
"So what does that mean for your future?"
"I remain in the party."
"And what about Mace Gilmore?" a reported from MSNBC blurted.
"What about him?"
"There's an unconfirmed report that he was last seen being helped into a large SUV in West Los Angeles by a middle-aged woman. Allegedly he was disoriented and uncommunicative."
"I'm not sure what this has to do with me," Kang said. "I assume the authorities have been alerted by his people."
"My sources indicate that the woman was Lacy Mills, the former assistant to Grish Waller, your mentor."
"But you haven't confirmed this," Kang asked.
"No, but what's your reaction to this?"
"An unconfirmed incident."
"We're looking into it. But early on you'd suggested that Waller's death might not be what it seemed, a suicide."
"This is far afield of the bailout package and that's the reason for this press conference. I'll take one more question on this topic. And let me add that on the matter of my whereabouts this past week or so, a statement will be forthcoming from my office in the near future."
This set off more questions about what that meant, which Kang deflected, ending with: "I thank you for your time. And let me drive home this point, whatever we arrive at here either tonight or next week, for me it has to be in the interests of my constituents and for all the ones who've played by the rules and not been given a fair shake in this. It all so very Merchant and Ivory-like for Secretary Paulson to get down on one knee in front of Speaker Pelosi and plead with her not to blow up the deal, but the sad fact remains, there is no deal at this point. The president must bring his party leaders into line, and we must keep our shoulders to the wheel until we've resolved this.
"Thank you." Kang wheeled about and left the press room, trailed by members of her staff. Questions were shouted at her, but she'd planned for that, and rather than head to her office, ducked through a door marked "Jefferson Lounge"--and into an empty corridor. This exit, among others, was used by members of Congress when they wanted to duck the press. An electronic tag in the pocket of Kang's skirt activated the lock, which reset when she closed the door behind her.
"Aw," the reporter from MSNBC groused, futilely turning the knob.
On the other side, walking quickly along the hallway, Kang gave some instructions to her two staffers and answered her cell on the third chime. From the number on the screen she knew it was the retied phramaceutical lobbyist Lillian McCord.
"What's up?" The Congresswoman said.
"You heard about Gilmore?"
Kang recounted the allegation she'd just heard from the reporter.
"It's true," McCord affirmed. "Lacy has drunk the Kool-Aid and snatched Gilmore."
"How do you know this, Lil?"
"She brought him here, to my house in Malibu."
To Be Continued...