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Term Limits, Page 2

Vince Flynn

  “Are we in a position to do that?” the president asked.

  Garret leaned back in his chair, placed his hands behind his neck, and smiled. “Tom Basset has a meeting with Congressman Moore at eleven, and when that meeting is over, Frank Moore is going to make an announcement that he’s backing the budget.”

  “How much is it going to cost us?” asked Dickson.

  “Only about ten million.”

  “You guys are going to bag Frank Moore for ten million? That’s nothing more than pocket change to Frank.” The president shook his head. “How are you going to get him to settle for so little?”

  Garret’s smile emanated confidence. “We recruited some outside help to get him to see things our way.”

  “What kind of help?”

  Garret paused for a long moment and replied flatly, “Arthur Higgins arranged to have some photos taken of the congressman and a certain young woman.”

  Arthur Higgins. There was no more mysterious name in all of Washington. Stevens seriously wondered whether it was in his best interest to know any details. Arthur Higgins was an ominous and legendary figure in the power circles of Washington and many of the world’s other capitals. For forty years Higgins had run the most secretive branch of the CIA. Officially he never existed nor did his department. Higgins had been the author and controller of the Agency’s most delicate and dangerous covert operations since the height of the cold war. Several years earlier he had been forced out of the CIA in a heated power struggle. What he had been doing with his time and talents since was something that was whispered about behind closed doors.

  Stevens looked up from the paper and said, “You’re going to blackmail Frank Moore?”

  Garret smiled and said, “Essentially.”

  “I don’t want to know the details, do I?”

  “No.” Garret shook his head. “Just trust me when I say Moore will see no other choice than to vote our way.”

  Stevens nodded solemnly and replied, “Next time, I would prefer it if you would let me know about these things before they’re set in motion.”

  “Understood.” After a brief silence Garret turned their attention back to the task at hand. “Jim, I need to get you working on a couple of these possible defectors. Our staffers have been feeling these guys out, and I think that two of the six will give us their vote if you promise not to back their opponent in the next election. Out of the ten undecideds and the six possible defectors, we’re going to have to get at least nine or the budget is dead, and if that happens, we may as well kiss next year’s election good-bye.”

  “What about any possible defections from our side?” the president asked.

  Garret leaned forward. “Don’t worry about that. If one of those little pricks steps out of line, Koslowski will cut every penny of federal money from their district. We’re not going to have any traitors.” Besides being chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Jack Koslowski was the party’s chief neck-breaker on the Hill. He was known and feared by all as one of the roughest players in D.C. “What I need from you this morning are some real nice down-home phone calls to a couple of these rookie congressmen, telling them how much their vote would mean to you and the country. Maybe even invite them over here for lunch.”

  The request was met with a grimace by the president, but Garret continued, “Jim, I know you don’t like mixing with the common folk, but if you don’t get a couple of these boys to switch over to our side, you’re going to have to do an awful lot of ass-kissing come election time.” Garret paused, giving the president time to reflect on unpleasant memories of the campaign trail. “If everything goes well with Moore, which I’m sure it will, I want to schedule a press conference at noon to try and spook the rest of these guys into settling. At the press conference I want you to stand up and complain about congressional gridlock. Tell them that you can’t start fixing this nation if they don’t pass your budget. You know the routine. I wrote a speech for you last night, and when we’re done with the phone calls, I want to run through it with you.” Garret hadn’t actually written the speech. One of his staffers had, but Garret was not one to give credit to others.

  “How do you want him to respond if they start asking about us buying votes?” asked Dickson.

  “Flat out deny it. Tell them that there are several congressmen who feel very strongly about getting certain kinds of economic relief to their districts, which are in dire need of help. Deny it, deny it, deny it! This thing will all be over in a couple of days, and then the press will move on to something else. If they start to lay into you about any frivolous parts of the bill, just squirm your way out of it, and then look at your watch and end the press conference. Tell them you have to meet some diplomats from one of the former Soviet republics.” Garret quickly jotted down a note to himself. “By the time you go on, I’ll have an excuse ready.”

  The president nodded his head in a positive manner. He was a professional politician, and Garret was one of the best handlers in the business. He trusted Garret completely when it came to manipulating public opinion.

  Garret stabbed his index finger at the list of congressmen. “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 . . . 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.”

sp; 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 Rapids. 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, smalltown 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, I’ve 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, and 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.”

, 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.”