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Term Limits mr-1, Page 2

Vince Flynn

  Garret completely when it came to manipulating public opinion.

  Garret stabbed his index finger at the list of Congressman. “All right, let’s stay focused on the game. I don’t give a shit what the press thinks, just so long as we get this budget passed.” Garret picked up a pen and circled three names under the possible-defectors heading. “Now, Jim, these three boys are as big hicks as they come.

  They’re a couple of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington types. Just like Jimmy Stewart in the movie. All three are freshmen and are full of ideals. If you call them up and beat the commander-in-chief drum, I think we can get them to jump sides. Give them the old

  ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day, we can’t save the nation overnight’ speech.” The President nodded his head, signaling a full understanding of the performance needed. “These next two guys are the ones I was telling you about. If we promise not to back their opponents in the next election, they’ll give us their votes. All they want is a personal guarantee from you и . . they said they don’t trust my word.” Garret let out a loud laugh. “Can you imagine that?” The President and Dickson joined in with smiles and a couple of chuckles.

  Garret pressed on. “Now this last rep is a real nut-bag, and I’m not so sure she’ll play ball. Koslowski wanted her name on the list.

  She’s from one of his neighboring districts in Chicago. She’s a black freshman and she scares the shit out of me. She’s a bona fide race-baiter. She’ll call anyone a racist, and I

  mean anyone. She’d call the pope a racist if she had the chance. I think in exchange for her vote she’s going to want to be invited to several high-profile events and be put on some of the more powerful committees. At which point she will stand up and call our biggest financial backers racists and embarrass the shit out of them. I would prefer to avoid having to deal with her if at all possible.” The President massaged his fingers.

  “Why is she on the list?”

  “I told you, Jack put her on there just in case we need a vote at the last minute.

  We’re not going to deal with her unless we absolutely have to. Now let’s get started with the three rookies.” The first name at the top of the list was Michael O’Rourke. The

  President picked up his pen and stabbed the tip at O’Rourke’s name. “Michael O’Rourke -

  - where have I heard that name before?” Garret looked over at his boss and shook his head. “I have no idea. He’s a freshman independent from Minnesota.”

  Garret glanced down at his notes. “He was on Senator Olson’s staff before he was elected. He graduated from the University of Minnesota where he played hockey. After college he went into the Marine Corps and fought in the Gulf War. It says here he was leading a squad of Recon Marines behind enemy lines during the air war conducting target assessment when they saw a coalition pilot shot down. He and his men rushed to


  the pilot’s aid and held off an entire company of Iraqi soldiers until the cavalry showed up. He was awarded the Silver Star.”

  The President continued to stare at the name and mumbled to himself, “I know I’ve heard that name before.” Mark Dickson interjected, “Sir, you may have read about him in the papers. He’s recently been crowned the most eligible bachelor in Washington by the social columnists.”

  Stevens stabbed his pen down on the piece of paper several times.

  “You’re right. That is where I’ve heard about him. I caught the secretaries swooning over his picture several weeks ago. Very handsome young man. We could probably use that to our advantage. What else do we know about him?” Garret looked through some notes that an assistant had made for him. “He’s thirty-two-years-old and from Grand


  His family is big in the timber business.” Garret raised his eyebrows when he looked at the estimated value of the O’Rourke Timber Company.

  “They’ve got some serious money. At any rate, he says he won’t vote for your budget unless all of the funding for the Rural Electrification Administration is cut.”

  The President let out a loud laugh and asked, “That’s the only thing he doesn’t like about it?”

  “No.” Garret shook his head. “He says the whole thing sucks, but he’s willing to sign on to it if, and only if, you cut the funding for the REA.” The President frowned at the word sucks.

  “That’s ridiculous. We’d lose half the votes we already have, and we wouldn’t gain more than a handful.”


  “Well, let’s call him and find out just how serious he is when he’s got the President of the United States breathing down his neck.” Stevens pressed a button on his phone console. “Betty, would you please get Congressman O’Rourke on the line for me?”

  “Yes, sir.” Stevens looked up from the phone. “What else can you tell me about him?”

  “Not much. He’s an unknown. I’m banking on the fact that once he hears your voice, he’ll be in such awe that he’ll roll over like a good-old, small-town boy.”

  O’Rourke was deep in thought when Susan’s voice came over the intercom. He finished the sentence he was working on and pressed the intercom button. “Yes, Susan, what is it?”


  “Michael, the President is holding on line one.”

  “Very funny, Susan. I told you I didn’t want to be bothered. Please, tell the President

  I’m a little busy at the moment. I’ll try to get back to him after lunch.”

  “Michael, I’m not kidding. The President is holding on line one.”

  O’Rourke laughed to himself: “Susan, are you that bored?”

  “I’m serious, he’s on line one.” O’Rourke frowned at the blinking light and pressed it.

  “Hello, this is Congressman O’Rourke.” The President was sitting behind his desk, and

  Stu Garret and Mark Dickson were listening in on the call from separate phones on the other side of the room. Upon hearing O’Rourke’s voice, the President enthusiastically said, “Hello, Congressman O’Rourke?” Michael leaned forward in his chair when he heard the President’s familiar voice and said, “Yes, this is he.”

  “This is the President. How are you doing this morning?”

  “Just fine, sir, and how are you?” O’Rourke closed his eyes and wished Susan would have listened to him. “Well, I would be doing a whole lot better if I could get some of you people over there to back me on this budget.”

  “Yes, I’d imagine you would, sir.” O’Rourke’s monotone response was followed by a brief silence. “You know, Congressman, that’s a beautiful part of the country you’re from.

  One of my roommates at Dartmouth had a little cabin up near Grand Rapids. I spent a week there one summer and had a fantastic time.

  That is, with the exception of those darn mosquitoes. They could pick you up and carry you off during the middle of the night if you weren’t careful.”

  “Yes, they’re pretty bad at times.” O’Rourke had yet to show an ounce of emotion in his voice. The President pressed on, speaking as if he and O’Rourke had been friends for years. “Well, Michael, the reason I’m calling is to tell you that I really need your vote tomorrow.

  And before you tell me yes or no, I want to talk to you about a couple of things. “I’ve been doing this for over twenty-five years now, and I remember when I was a freshman representative. I came here filled with piss and vinegar. I was going to change this place

  … I was going to make a difference. Well, I quickly realized that if I didn’t learn to take the good with the bad, I was never going to get anything done.

  I’ve been there, Michael. I know what you’re going through. “I remember the first

  Presidential budget I had to vote on. There were some things in that budget that made me want to vomit. I vowed to fight it, until some of the older guys pulled me aside and pointed out that there would never be a budget that I would completely agree with.


  I took another look at it, and then after a closer review,
I realized that I agreed with about eighty percent of the stuff that was in there.

  “Michael, there are four hundred and thirty-five members in the House of

  Representatives. There is no way I will ever be able to send a budget up there that everyone agrees with. Now, I know you want the REA disbanded, and to be honest, we wanted to kill the damn program for the past twenty years, but we’re in a goddamned war here, Michael. If I torpedo the REA, my budget will be sunk faster than the Titanic. I

  agree with you in theory. The REA has to go, but in the real world if I want to pass all the other things that will help make this country a better place to live, I have to make some compromises. And the REA is one of those ugly things I have to let slide, so we can achieve what is best for the country.” The President paused for effect, and O’Rourke offered no response. “Michael, do you understand the position I’m in?

  I will never be able to present a budget that will make everybody happy. I need you to ask yourself if you’re being realistic …. I’m up here taking the heat. I’m running the show, and if this budget doesn’t get passed, I will be severely hampered in my ability to put this country back on its feet. I’m asking you for a big favor …. I was in your shoes once before

  …. I need you to ignore the twenty percent that you don’t like and help me pass this budget. If you come on board, Michael, I can guarantee that you’ll go a long way in politics.” Stevens paused to give O’Rourke some time to think of the ways the President of the United States could help his career. “What do you say, Michael? Can I count on your vote tomorrow?” There was a long, awkward silence as O’Rourke sat in his office and cursed himself for taking the call. He did not want to get into a debate with the

  President right now. So, true to his typical form, he cut straight to the heart of the matter.

  “Mr. President, there is very little that I like about your budget. My vote will be no tomorrow, an there is nothing that will change that. I’m sorry to have wasted your time by accepting this call.”

  Without waiting for a response, O’Rourke hung up. THE PRESIDENT sat IN

  DISBELIEF BEHIND HIS DESK, STARING AT THE phone. He looked over at Garret and asked, “Did he just hang up on me?”

  “The guy must be an idiot. He’s definitely not going to be around this town for long.

  Don’t let it bother you. I’ll have Koslowski take care of him.” Garret rose and started to walk toward the door. “I’ll be right back. I have to get something from my office. Mark, get him started on the calls to Dreyer and Hampton. Jim, all they want is a verbal guarantee from you that you won’t back their opponents in next year’s election. I’ll be back in five minutes.” Garret walked down the hallway, ignoring all in his path. He entered his office, closed the door, and headed straight for his desk.

  Before grabbing the phone, he picked up a pack of Marlboro 100s and shoved one in his mouth. After lighting it, he took two deep drags and filled his lungs. The President wouldn’t allow Garret to smoke in the Oval Office, so he tended to find an excuse about every hour to sneak away to his office. He picked up the handset of his phone and


  punched in the number for the direct line to Jack Koslowski’s office. A gruff voice answered the phone on the other end. “Yeah.”

  “Jack, Stu here. How are things going?”

  “We’re holding the line. No one is going to break ranks on this one.

  All we need is for you boys and Tom to come through.”

  “We both know Tom will have Moore delivered to us by noon, but we need some people to jump ship from the other side.”

  “Who do you have in mind?”

  “For starters I need you to lean on this O’Rourke clown. The President just tried to give him the soft shoe and it went over like a lead balloon. Stevens gave him a five—

  minute speech and then O’Rourke hung up on him.”

  “You’re shitting me. He hung up on Stevens?” Koslowski started to laugh.

  Garret did not think it was funny. “Lean on him hard, and if there’s anyone else you can think of, we need them by noon.”

  “I’ll put my boys on the street and see what I can do. I’ll let you know as soon as I find anything out.” Both men hung up. Congressman O’Rourke was sitting at his desk, reading over some documents and dictating notes, when the door to his office burst open. A

  slender, well-dressed man, who looked vaguely familiar, pushed his way past Susan and approached Michael’s desk. In an irritated voice Susan said, “I’m sorry, sir, but I told this man that you weren’t taking visitors this morning.”

  The man stepped forward. “I apologize for the intrusion, Congressman O’Rourke, but

  I’m one of Chairman Koslowski’s aides. He has a proposal he would like you to consider, and he needs an answer immediately.”

  Michael leaned back in his chair and realized where he’d seen the dark-haired man before. Michael’s gaze turned from the aide to his secretary. “Thank you, Susan, I’ll see the gentleman.” Susan retreated from the office and closed the door. The chairman’s aide stepped forward and extended his hand across the desk. O’Rourke remained seated and took the man’s hand.

  “Congressman O’Rourke, my name is Anthony Vanelli.” O’Rourke placed his

  Dictaphone on the desk behind several stacks of files and said, “Please take a seat, Mr.

  Vanelli.” O’Rourke had heard several stories about the aide and doubted this would be a friendly visit. Vanelli sat down in one of the chairs in front of O’Rourke’s desk and crossed his legs.


  “Congressman O’Rourke, I’ve been sent here to find out if you’re still going to vote against the President’s budget, and if you are, what we can do to change your mind.”

  “Mr. Vanelli, I assume you know I spoke to the President this morning.”

  “I am fully aware of that, Congressman O’Rourke, but time is running short and we need to know who is standing with us and who is standing against us.” O’Rourke leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk.

  “Well, Mr. Vanelli, I have made my position very clear from the start.

  I will vote no for the budget unless the President cuts all funding for the Rural

  Electrification Administration.”

  “All right, Congressman, let’s cut to the chase. We live in the real world, and in the real world, the Rural Electrification Administration is going to continue to exist. It’s just the way things operate around here. You have to try to get over the little things and concentrate on the big picture. You can’t damn the whole budget just because you don’t like one little part of it.”

  “Mr. Vanelli, I would hardly consider a half billion dollars little.

  The thing you people don’t understand is that I consider most of the President’s budget to be a waste. I am merely focusing on the Rural Electrification Administration because it’s an easy target. You must agree with the simple logic that when an institution is founded to solve a problem, once that problem is solved, the institution should be closed. All of rural America has been electrified for over twenty years, but we continue to bleed the tax payers for about five hundred million dollars a year, just so Congressman and Senators can send pork back to their constituents. It’s a crime that the President is predicting a one-hundred-billion-dollar budget deficit and garbage like this isn’t being cut.” O’Rourke looked down to make sure the Dictaphone was still running. Vanelli stood from his chair and walked toward the other end of the office. “They told me you were a flake,” he said over his shoulder.

  O’Rourke smiled to himself as he looked at Vanelli’s back and said, “Excuse me.

  What did you just say?” Vanelli turned around and strutted back to the desk. “Enough of the bullshit, Mike. I’m not here to talk political theory with you, nor to discuss what is ethically correct.

  That’s for people like you and your loser friends to waste time on.”

  “Mr. Vanelli, I don’t remember giv
ing you permission to call me by my first name.”

  “Listen, Mike, Mikey, or dickhead, I’ll call you whatever I want. All you are is a naive little freshman Congressman who thinks he has all the solutions. We’re about the same age, but we’re worlds apart.


  I’m a realist and you’re an idealist. Do you know where idealists get in this town?

  Nowhere! They go absolutely nowhere! They sent me down here to give you one last chance. You either get on board with the President’s budget or your career is over. The choice is simple. You help us out and Chairman Koslowski will make sure some extra money finds its way into your district. If you don’t, you’ll be out of a job next year.”

  O’Rourke looked up at the man standing over his desk and rose to meet the challenge.

  The six-foot-three, 210-pound O’Rourke smiled slightly and asked, “Mr. Vanelli, what exactly do you mean, my career will be over?” Vanelli took a step backward and replied, “You either play ball with us or we’ll ruin your career. Chairman Koslowski will make sure he cuts off every penny from getting to your district.

  We’ve got people right now who are digging through your past. If we find anything dirty, we’ll spread it all over town, and if we don’t, we’ll make something up. We own enough people in the press. We could ruin you in a week. We’re done playing nice guy.”

  Vanelli shook his finger in O’Rourke’s face. “I’m going to wait in your lobby for exactly five minutes. I want you to sit in here and think about having your career ruined over one stupid vote, and when you’re done, I want an answer.”

  Vanelli turned for the door. O’Rourke reached forward and grabbed the Dictaphone with his left hand. He took his thumb and pressed the rewind button. The tiny machine started to squeak as the tape spun in reverse.

  Vanelli heard the familiar sound and turned to look. Michael held up the’ tiny machine and pressed play. Vanelli’s voice emanated from the small box. “We’ve got people right now who are digging through your past. If we find anything dirty, we’ll spread it all over town, and if we don’t, we’ll make something up. We own enough people in the press.