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Democrats' French Kiss-Off

February 02, 1996|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When French President Jacques Chirac addressed a joint session of Congress Thursday, many congressional Democrats had other plans--including all three Democrats from the San Fernando Valley area.

Reps. Anthony C. Beilenson of Woodland Hills, Howard L. Berman of Panorama City and Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles all missed the speech.

In fact, only about 30 of the House's 197 Democrats attended Chirac's address, with many of the no-shows boycotting out of anger over French nuclear testing. So many lawmakers were not present that young congressional pages and staffers were rushed in at the last minute to fill empty seats.

Lawmakers organized the boycott to protest the nuclear testing that ended Saturday with the most powerful blast of the latest series. In his speech, Chirac told those who were present that France had ended nuclear testing forever.

None of the local congressman, however, said they were protesting Chirac.

Beilenson, who speaks some French, followed the speech on television from his office and said he understood it without the translation. He said he generally supports Chirac, although he opposed the nuclear tests. It was other business that kept Beilenson away, not the protest, he said.

Waxman signed a letter expressing concern with France's nuclear explosions, but an aide said he had a scheduling conflict with the speech, nothing more.

Berman also had other business, a staffer said. While he opposes France's nuclear testing, Berman did attend a state dinner for Chirac Thursday night at the White House, the first time Berman attended such an affair in his 13 years in Congress.

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