Rooney a hit at confirmation hearing
Steelers owner Dan Rooney holds his wife Pat's hand as they arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington yesterday for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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WASHINGTON -- It's a rare day when NFL Films is on the news media list at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And the handful of senators attending yesterday took full advantage of the chance to talk football as they lobbed queries and praise to Steelers owner Dan Rooney, appearing as the nominee to become ambassador to Ireland.
Sen. Edward Kaufman, D-Del., acting as chair, opened by acknowledging that he was not a Steelers loyalist, but that wouldn't stop him from heaping accolades upon Mr. Rooney and his team.
"While I grew up in Philadelphia and am a lifelong Eagles fan, the committee will not hold your Steelers ownership against you, though I would appreciate you sharing some of your six Super Bowl trophies with us one day," Mr. Kaufman said.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., began her questioning of Mr. Rooney with a statement:
"Mr. Rooney, you're having quite a year," she said. "I'm not going to ask you whether it's better to win the Super Bowl or be nominated to be an ambassador."
"I'm not sure I can answer that," Mr. Rooney replied with a chuckle.
That was about as tough as the grilling got yesterday for Mr. Rooney, who appeared at the hour-long meeting with Capricia Marshall, nominated to be the White House chief of protocol.
The committee will vote in the coming days on whether to send Mr. Rooney's nomination to the Senate floor, where his confirmation is considered a mere formality.
"Anybody who would vote against Dan Rooney for ambassador will do so at their peril," said Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., before heading into the meeting.
Mr. Specter, perhaps unrealistically, said he hoped Mr. Rooney would be confirmed before the Senate takes its Fourth of July recess.
"The Senate is known as the saucer that cools the tea, but the Senate is known to move with dispatch when circumstances warrant," Mr. Specter said. "The sooner there's an Ambassador Rooney in Dublin, the better off we'll be."
Though Mr. Specter is a noted Eagles fan as well, he claimed his stake of Steeler fandom by recalling how he and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. -- who is a member of the committee -- attended a Super Bowl party at the White House this year.
Mr. Specter said President Barack Obama told him how he fell in love with the Steelers championship teams of the 1970s and '80s growing up in Hawaii.
Mr. Specter noted that it was "the era of [Terry] Bradshaw and Mean Joe Greene and," he paused as he turned to the expert next to him. "Who would you supplement with, Dan?"
"I'd say they're all great, but Franco Harris deserves a little attention," Mr. Rooney said.
A lifelong Republican, Mr. Rooney became a supporter of Mr. Obama at a time when most of the Pittsburgh political establishment lined up behind Hillary Rodham Clinton during a contentious primary season. Mr. Specter yesterday dismissed the idea that there was any quid pro quo between Mr. Rooney and the president that kicked in with the St. Patrick's Day ambassador nomination.
"He's not a political appointee," Mr. Specter said.
Mr. Rooney, whose family hails from the Northern Ireland border town of Newry, has long been an advocate of Irish causes and in 1976 was co-founder of The American Ireland Fund, which he said has raised more than $300 million to further peace efforts and other charitable Irish causes.
"American diplomacy is the best chance for peace in the world, and Ireland is its shining example," Mr. Rooney said.
He spoke about getting out of Dublin to get the pulse of the countryside, the need for continued American investment to help fend off the island's economic crisis and hopes for further cultural connections made between the 44 million Irish Americans and their ancestral home.
The day marked another step toward a diplomatic career and away from football -- at least in the day-to-day sense.
Mr. Rooney's son, Steelers president Art Rooney II, said he expects plenty of visits and phone calls from Dublin about the fate of the franchise, as a half-century habit is a hard thing to break.
Art Rooney II said he doesn't plan any major changes as he takes over. He said the realignment of the team ownership structure -- with Art and Dan Rooney as the primary owners -- should be finalized next month and they had to raise some more money, but not tens of millions.
In brief remarks to reporters after the hearing, Mr. Rooney said it would be difficult to step away from an active role with the team, but "I wanted to do something for my country."
There appears to be almost no opposition to him doing so.
Only three committee members stayed the whole time -- the rest were presumably attending to more pressing matters like health care reform -- and they didn't present any ideological differences outside of the gridiron.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, who appeared to introduce Ms. Marshall and is not on the committee, gave Mr. Rooney the closest thing he got to a put-down by expressing gratitude that they weren't seated next to each other.
"It would not look real good as a picture in the newspaper to have me next to Dan Rooney without an explanation," he said. The Ohio Democrat had one surly constituency in mind: Browns fans.
First Published June 25, 2009 12:00 am