‘Snowpocalypse’ envelops nation’s capital in chaos

Jon Ward Contributor
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There is a chaotic feel to the nation’s capital. Apocalyptic weather patterns have turned everything, it seems, upside down.

President Obama on Tuesday conducted his first press conference since July, but made it a surprise, showing up unannounced at the top of the daily briefing.

Obama said he would be “starting from scratch” on health care, but only “in the sense that I am going to be open to any ideas that help promote” the goals of affordability and availability of care.

In perhaps the only moment of predictable, now-we-know-the-world-is-returning-to-normal type partisanship, Republicans rolled their eyes, telling reporters, “We’ve heard this tune before.”

Moments after Obama spoke, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs followed the president to the podium and made fun of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Gibbs held up his left hand to show reporters he had written in pen on his palm, mocking Palin’s supposed reading from notes on her own hand Saturday while taking questions at the Tea Party convention.

“I wrote eggs, milk and bread,” Gibbs said.

The arrival of 10 to 20 more inches of snow Tuesday in the Washington area, on top of two or more feet that continued to paralyze most of the region, has turned the Snowpocalypse into Snomas.

The House of Representatives canceled all its votes for the rest of the week, and committees canceled meetings for Wednesday.

The city remained largely a ghost town. The federal government was closed for the second straight day, and most non-governmental offices were operating on a very liberal leave policy.

The White House moved a concert celebrating the civil rights movement, scheduled for Wednesday, up to Tuesday evening. Apparently performers like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Smokey Robinson were just hanging around.

Around the city, D.C. residents complained that Mayor Adrian Fenty’s street had been plowed of the original two feet from Saturday.

Residents of homes with flat roofs fretted about the big question for them: to climb up on the roof to remove snow and risk the danger to life and limb, or to just hope and pray that the extra snow does not bring the roof down?

And Metro riders on a blue and orange line train between L’Enfant Plaza and Smithsonian stops began to run in a near panic from the front car of the train to the car behind them, after hearing a loud crash and then seeing smoke wafting into the train.

Metro officials told a Daily Caller reporter who was on the train that a cable had fallen from the tunnel ceiling and had been “extinguished.” A separate train was brought to escort the stranded and frightened passengers back to L’Enfant Plaza.

Even when it came to actual talk of policy Tuesday in Washington, the notes were discordant.

The president, after meeting with congressional leaders from both parties in the morning at the White House, spoke during his afternoon press conference of bipartisanship and of bringing Republicans and Democrats together on Feb. 25 to get a health care deal done.

But House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, appeared frustrated after leaving the White House.

“Why are we going to talk about a bill that can’t pass?” he exclaimed to reporters outside the West Wing.

Inside the West Wing at the same time, the president’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers, was talking about a totally different topic: the nation’s long term fiscal insolvency. Asked by a Bloomberg TV reporter whether instability in Europe was a precursor to similar upheaval in the U.S., Summers demurred.

“People are always making forecasts. I’ll tell you what’s really important. What’s really important is that we show, as a country, that we are committed to bringing this deficit down,” Summers said.

The perpetually rumpled Summers – his hair askew and his tie stopping short two inches above his belt — said one of the “important topics” at the bipartisan meeting that morning had been a commission on the budget deficit and federal debt that Obama plans to create by executive order.

But a commission created by the president’s pen, rather than by a congressional vote, will have no authority to bind Congress into up or down votes on recommendations from such a commission, rendering such a panel largely toothless.

Perhaps the truest words of the day were spoken by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who joined Boehner outside the White House.

“The weather is sort of interfering this week with our ability to do business,” he said, struggling to be heard over the shrieking of construction equipment yards away, as a crew did excavation work around a tree on the North Lawn.

Watch video of Gibbs mocking Palin.