Awkward Moments During Le Pen Visit

Posted November 2, 2011 at 6:30pm

In a scene reminiscent of a Benny Hill chase skit, controversial French politician Marine Le Pen made the rounds on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, haranguing the French government, meeting with sheepish Republican lawmakers and being dodged by other Members, all the while being trailed by a throng of Francophone reporters.

Le Pen, the leader of the ultraconservative National Front political party, had hoped to use her Washington visit as a demonstration of her foreign policy credentials, scheduling a meeting with presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to discuss the gold standard and other international monetary policies.

But instead of the serious, quasi-state visit she had been hoping for, Le Pen found herself at the center of a trans-
Atlantic media circus.

Although Le Pen had hoped to have a packed schedule of meetings with Democrats and Republicans alike, Members largely kept her at arm’s length.

For instance, according to a spokesman for Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), “They approached us … we were not able to agree to the specific details.”

Other Members canceled meetings with Le Pen, including Paul, who abruptly pulled out of his sit-down with Le Pen earlier this week, citing “scheduling” conflicts.

Last month, Paul’s office had defended scheduling the meeting, with the Texas Republican’s spokeswoman, Rachel Mills, writing in an email, “Paul generally meets with foreign politicians and political leaders who request a meeting, particularly when they share his interest in monetary policy and the destructive nature of central banks.”

It is unclear why Paul canceled their meeting this week, as requests for comment on that were not returned.

Despite Paul’s snub, Le Pen was undeterred. First, she reportedly met with anti-Sharia law activists to discuss their common efforts to block what they view as a looming threat to Western civilization posed by Islamic religious law.

She then had lunch at the Capitol Hill Club with Republican lobbyists.

Following lunch and surrounded by dozens of reporters, many of whom had flown to Washington from Paris to cover her visit, Le Pen purposefully trudged across the street to the Cannon House Office Building, intent on forcing a meeting with Paul and blaming the media and political pressure from the French government for the cancellation.

After several fits and starts on the corner as her advisers struggled with which door to enter, Le Pen quickly escaped through a security checkpoint and down a hall.

With Paul on the floor voting, Le Pen hunkered down for 50 minutes in his office, and a tight-faced Paul eventually pushed his way through the reporters, staring straight ahead as he was asked repeatedly why he was meeting with the controversial leader.

Following the meeting — alternately described as “quick” by Miller and “very interesting; we spoke at length” by Le Pen — Le Pen praised Paul, and her own National Front, on their economic policies.

“He has been a visionary on this subject, as we have been visionaries on the economic crisis that today besets Europe,” Le Pen said as she made her way to a meeting with Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), one of the freshman class’s most hard-line conservative lawmakers.

“I believe it was Einstein who said you cannot solve problems with those who caused them. So, in American political life as in French political life, it is more difficult to imagine that the people who contributed to causing the crisis, to accelerating it, would be able to solve it,” Le Pen said.

After her brief meeting with Walsh, Le Pen again accused the media and French politicians of undermining her trip before she left the Capitol complex.

For instance, Le Pen told reporters that the French ambassador had made “political statements” about her trip and that the lawmakers “told me they received dozens of telephone calls from the media, notably the French media, and that they thought your methods a little peculiar.”

Le Pen is a lightning rod in French politics. Her father, Jean-Marie, founded the National Front, and his party has long been associated with conservative reaction to France’s immigration policies and anti-Muslim sentiments.

The elder Le Pen, who led the National Front until his daughter took over last year, has been one of France’s most divisive political figures and has been found guilty in French courts of inciting racial hatred.

Although an extremely controversial personality in French politics, Marine Le Pen, a member of the European Parliament, has taken steps to soften the National Front’s image, including denouncing anti-Semitism and stating her support for Israel. Le Pen was expected to visit the Holocaust Museum during her visit to Washington.

Le Pen was asked whether she was disappointed she had not met more influential members of the government as her father had, when he famously met President Ronald Reagan and secured a photo of the two shaking hands.

“Ronald Reagan was president at the time, you know. So, obviously, meeting Mr. Obama [would not be likely]. … Ronald Reagan and Jean-Marie Le Pen had a lot in common back then,” she said.