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Herman Cain dodges scandal questions on Capitol Hill

November 02, 2011|By James Oliphant and Kathleen Hennessey
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Herman Cain came to Capitol Hill to address the congressional healthcare caucus at a House office building Wednesday, but it was clear from the media scrum inside the room and outside in the hallway that health policy was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Cain was fresh from campaign events in Northern Virginia, where he declined to answer questions about allegations of sexual harassment stemming from his time at the National Restaurant Assn. in the late 1990s.

As Cain arrived on the Hill, the association confirmed that it had been contacted by a lawyer for one of Cain's accusers, which could lead to discussions over whether the association will free the woman from a confidentiality agreement she signed as part of a settlement. Should the trade group decide to do so, the woman, who remains unidentified, would then be able to publically detail her version of events for the first time.

“From all the turmoil out in the hall, it sounds like Mr. Cain is here,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican from Texas who chairs the caucus, before Cain showed.

Burgess called the storm surrounding Cain “a distraction” and urged the reporters in the room to confine their questions to healthcare. Shortly afterward, Cain, hounded by questions regarding the accusations, entered the small, packed meeting room and the doors were shut behind him.

“You can see there is an intense interest on healthcare policy on the Republican side,” Burgess joked to Cain.

Few members of the House were present for Cain’s talk. Among them in the room when he arrived were Reps. Billy Long of Louisiana, a freshman; Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania; and Rep. Andy Harris, a freshman from Maryland. 

Cain gave a short speech on healthcare policy, citing, as has in the past, his own experience as a cancer survivor as an argument against the Democratic healthcare reform law. He said he would plan to sign a bill repealing the plan on March 23, 2013, his son’s birthday. “I’m going to unpass it on my son’s birthday,” he pledged.

After his brief remarks, there was a momentary pause. “Can I ask a question,” he said. “Are y’all too busy to applaud?” Cain apparently was unaware that most of the small audience was comprised of congressional staffers, reporters and camera operators. Still, the members and staff obliged.

After Cain replied to several questions on healthcare from the Republicans present, Burgess abruptly ended the session before any of the assembled media could ask Cain about the scandal.

Cain quickly exited the room, trailed by reporters and ignored all shouted questions, except inquiries about healthcare. Asked what his current insurance plan is, Cain said he is paying for a COBRA extension.

"It's expensive," he said.

In one of the weirder moments, Cain, his entourage, the pack of reporters and a few police officers passed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in a crowded stairwell. Geithner smiled as in disbelief and kept walking.

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