If Hillary Clinton had peeked outside the committee hearing room before taking her seat on the dais today to welcome Al Gore back to the Senate, she would have seen an overflow crowd that stretched deep into the Dirksen building—including more than a dozen singing anti-war protestors dressed in choir robes, and a man toting homemade posterboard signs reading "Run Al, Run" and "Gore Obama ’08."
The venue had been changed to accommodate the mass, but some were still left out of the packed hearing room; the Gore nostalgia along the line was palpable.
"I wish he’d get in [to the presidential race]," said Martin Apple of the Scientific Society Presidents.
Mr. Apple said that he first met Gore when he was a young Senator so worked up over climate change that he jumped on a conference table and waved his arms, in a particularly wonky sort of Tom Cruise moment.
"We need him," he said wistfully. "The country needs him."
It was an impressive turnout for an afternoon hearing that didn’t involve subpoenas or indictable offenses; at least three dozen journalists lined the sides and back of the cavernous hearing room.
When Mr. Gore appeared – in a distinctly un-Presidential grid-patterned shirt and powder-egg blue tie – an excited buzz rose from the room.
"I can imagine a time in the future when our children and grandchildren will look back at us here in 2007 and ask us one of two questions," said Mr. Gore during his testimony, his voice rising. "Either they will ask, ‘What were you thinking?’"
He paused, as the room went silent.
"Or they will ask, ‘How did you find the moral courage to cross party lines and solve this crisis?’"
Oklahoma Senator and global warming arch-skeptic Jim Inhofe – the environmental committee’s chair when the GOP controlled the Senate – launched into his allotted question time with relish, pressing Mr. Gore to pledge that his own home would use less energy than the national average within a year. (It was a follow-on the controversial story in The Tennessean about Mr. Gore’s personal energy use that that shared airtime with his triumph at the Oscars).
"First of all, Senator – thanks for your question," said Gore dryly.
The back rows barely stifled their laughter, and a smattering of applause in the mostly sympathetic audience was audible.
Perhaps sensing he was losing the crowd, Mr. Inhofe tried to hold Mr. Gore to straight yes-or-no answers, prompting a testy response at one point from Senator Barbara Boxer, who waved her gavel at him and reminded him that he wasn’t in charge anymore.
The Gore supporters in the room exploded.
But a small but vocal chunk of the audience, sporting anti-Gore stickers, spurred Mr. Inhofe on. “From now on, I’m going to ask you to respond in writing,” insisted the clock-watching Oklahoma senator, who had 15 minutes to grill the former vice president.
“If I respond to you verbally here, I hope it’s okay, too,” responded Gore.
Ms. Boxer stepped in to referee, with the air of a patient fifth grade teacher pushed to her limit. “Senator, I will stop the clock, and allow Senator Gore to speak please.”
A half-dozen teenage girls in Steve Madden shoes collapsed in laughter. A middle-aged woman in a pink sweatshirt and pearls stood and cheered.