Helms was not present when the disruption occurred, but an aide speaking unofficially said no action would be taken, "but that doesn’t mean he's sympathetic to them," he said.
"I cannot stand to be in the same room as Paul Cellucci," shouted Jack Clayton over and over as he stood up and walked out of the hearing room. About 12 other pro-family activists followed him out, leaving the room virtually empty.
Clayton and his group, Public Advocate, were protesting because they say that Gov. Paul Cellucci, R–Mass., promotes homosexuality in public schools and is responsible for $6 billion of cost overruns for a public works project in Massachusetts.
The hearing on the nomination of Cellucci as U.S. ambassador to Canada was brought about by pressure from the White House to move the nomination along quickly, according to Jesse R. Binnall, spokesman for Public Advocate. He accused the committee of trying to "meet in secret" because the meeting was scheduled only the night before.
"Cellucci has been a crusader for the homosexual lobby, has pushed their agenda to teen-agers as young as 12 with 1.5 million tax dollars and presided over a $6 billion overrun on the 'Big Dig.' Public Advocate has collected 100,000 petitions against this nominee. Having a secret meeting to railroad this nomination only proves Cellucci is a disaster," said Binnall in a phone interview.
President Bush officially nominated Cellucci on March 27. He told aides at that time that he wanted Cellucci to attend an economic summit in Canada on April 20. That means Helms needs to fast-track the process.
Senate rules do not permit a hearing sooner than six days from the time the nomination is made. Wednesday was the sixth day. Even though there were only two committee members in attendance, a staff member said he was not aware of any plans for Cellucci to return for more questions. The Senate calendar has no further hearings scheduled.
The Cellucci nomination has received little attention outside Massachusetts. Most senators expected the process to be uncontroversial. Only Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R–R.I., and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D–Conn., attended.
Cellucci has been embroiled in a controversy over the use of state funds used to finance a convention at which schoolchildren as young as 12 were taught about graphic homosexual activities, including "fisting."
In addition, a recent audit has revealed massive expenditures on a major public works project known as the "Big Dig" in Boston – a full $6 billion over budget.
Binnall accused the committee of giving Cellucci a pass by not asking about either of those subjects.
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said the selection of Cellucci was based on a friendship Bush established when he was governor of Texas. He said Bush placed a high priority on the U.S. relationship with Canada and hoped there would be no delay.
"No matter what friendship there may be, Gov. Cellucci does not represent Americans. The senators are just trying to fall in to the party line. I think it's wrong. They have a constitutional duty to ask tough questions," said Binnall.
It was not the first protest by Public Advocate, a pro-family government watchdog organization that concentrates on issues affecting traditional family values.
Volunteers have been walking around Senate offices with tape players loudly playing a tape of the conference where children were taught about fisting.
They also dressed up wearing "skintight, flesh-colored body stockings" and paraded through the Senate buildings calling themselves "Perverts for Cellucci," said Binnall.
They also delivered letters to senators with paper bags over their heads, calling themselves "Pedophiles for Cellucci."
Today protesters plan to distribute a pail and shovel to all 100 senators, with the words "Don’t dig yourself too deep with Cellucci."
A member of the committee staff speaking unofficially said he did not think the protests would make any difference.
"This nomination is not a concern to the committee. At least I don't hear anyone expressing a concern," he said.
The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination within days, he added.
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