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It's business as usual on the House floor



Published: Thu, May 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



On the House floor, nothing is mentioned about indictments as Traficant pushes his favorite cause -- buy American.

By DAVID PHINNEY

STATES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. is shrugging off the distraction of a federal racketeering indictment to continue his presence on the House floor.

On Wednesday, he pushed through another provision designed to promote American-made products, one of his pet campaigns. His amendment will require that products used by wildland firefighters be made in America.

In March, he successfully pushed through the House legislation by a 407-3 vote that would set up a federally run consumer hot line that will allow American manufacturers to register their products as made in America.

Traficant was slapped last week with a 10-count indictment by a federal grand jury in Cleveland on charges of racketeering, tax violations, obstruction of justice and using paid congressional staff to work on his farm and houseboat.

Democratic outcast: In January, fellow Democrats branded Traficant an outcast after he crossed party lines and voted for Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois as speaker of the House. In retribution, Democrats kicked him out of the party caucus and stripped him of his committee assignments.

Although Republicans have been thankful for Traficant's support and his votes on GOP initiatives -- he was one of six House Democrats to vote in favor of the Republican budget Wednesday -- there was no thought of switching.

Traficant never gave any signal that he wanted in anyway. "He's a Democrat," said Charles Straub, the congressman's spokesman. "He's not going to be driven away."

Not answering questions: Since the indictment, the press has pounced on him with a fury, seeking comments and interviews.

Traficant's sticking to his game plan, leaving the calls to Straub.

With Traficant for three years, the tall, lanky 26-year-old Salem native works to put the best face on the events that overtake each day.

"It's a distraction. It's certainly a distraction," he said, adding that he can't talk about the specifics of the indictment even though he estimates he gets 30 calls a day asking about just that.

"We're just trying to work on legislation and do our job," he said.

The staff stopped briefly Tuesday to have cake with the congressman to celebrate his 60th birthday.

The usually expressive Traficant has yet to mention on the House floor having received the indictment.

On the floor: During Wednesday's debate, Traficant reminded House members that his "Made in America" amendment is especially important when it comes to buying Chinese goods because the U.S. trade deficit has reached a staggering imbalance with China.

"It's $100 billion a year draining out of the economy," he bellowed on the House floor. Just moments after he finished speaking, the House approved his amendment to the Wildland Fire Management Act by voice vote.

Bounding into his Capitol Hill office after the vote, the towering Traficant, dressed in a smart-looking gray suit, stuck out his hand to greet a reporter waiting on the sofa.

"I'm not talking to the press, you know," he said good-naturedly.

Three visitors then entered the reception room. Traficant wheeled around and met them with bear hugs and back slaps.

"You're not lobbyists are you?" he asked humorously. "Are you trying to buy me off?"

That's all the Mahoning Valley Democrat had to say, slipping into his private office.




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