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Posturing At The Pump

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I just got a behind the scenes account of a rather awkward and amusing Republican press event that took place this afternoon from CBS News Capitol Hill Producer Allison Davis.

First, a little backstory: This morning, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank had a funny piece on the gas price rhetoric, and somewhat ironic driving habits, of some members of Congress. He led with a quick account of a Democratic press event yesterday that took place at an Exxon station on Capitol Hill, where regular unleaded is going for $3.10. "Since George Bush and Dick Cheney took over as president and vice president, gas prices have doubled!," Milbank quotes Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Boxer saying. "They are too cozy with the oil industry."

Milbank subsequently noted that Boxer "then hopped in a waiting Chrysler LHS (18 mpg) -- even though her Senate office was only a block away."

Today it was the Republicans' turn to use a gas station as a backdrop to score some political points. Representatives Dennis Hastert, Roy Blunt, Marsha Blackburn and Adam Putnam were scheduled to appear at a BP station about nine blocks from their home base on Pennsylvania Avenue around 1:30, but thanks to an emergency conference meeting concerning the lobbying bill, the event got pushed back until about 2:35.

That's when waiting reporters watched as Blunt, Blackburn and a few others pulled up to the pumps in two blue, General Motors fuel cell vehicles, complete with Shell logos. Hastert was nowhere to be seen, but he eventually emerged from a parking lot near the gas station. After speeches about the importance of better energy policy, the members went over to one of the cars. They then awkwardly looked under the hood, commenting on how interesting it all was, as photographers took pictures.

When that wrapped up, the members started to leave. (All but Putnam, who stuck around to talk to reporters.) Blunt and Blackburn got in one of the fuel cell vehicles, while Hastert started walking back in the direction he'd come from. His press guy then apparently told Hastert that he should get into one of the fuel cell vehicles. Hastert changed course and did so.

When the vehicles drove away, a few people noted they were going in an odd direction. Davis got in her car and started driving. She soon spotted the two fuel cell cars on 8th street, and immediately noticed that Hastert, along with his security detail, were no longer in one of them. One of the cameraman said he'd seen Hastert's standard Chevrolet Suburban parked a few blocks away from the gas station -- apparently he'd been dropped off there before the fuel cell cars went back to the Capitol building.

We've posted the video of the event. Click on the box to watch. We've cut out the speeches, so what you see is the members' arrival, the photo-op of under the hood, and Hastert's change of course during his departure. All in all, about four minutes. Enjoy.

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