WASHINGTON -- The doors swung open and he made his entrance as cameras clicked. The man who was called a wooden politician, was denied the presidency and was derided as "Ozone Man" was coming home to the Capitol. But this time they called him a movie star and likened him to a prophet.
Al Gore left Washington seven years ago after the disputed 2000 election. He returned yesterday as the subject of an Academy Award-winning film, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, a 58-year-old who can share a stage with Leonardo DiCaprio and manage to be the center of attention.
The former representative, senator and vice president was back, this time to testify about global warming. The Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth - the documentary about his traveling slide show on the ravages of climate change - doesn't belong to him; it's the director's. But it has pushed Gore into another orbit. People started lining up as early as 7 a.m. to get a glimpse of him.
"This is the most dangerous crisis we have ever faced," Gore told a joint meeting of two House energy committees in an impassioned appeal for bold action, then repeated his case on the Senate side. "This problem is burning a hole in the top of the world. ... We need to turn the thermostat back down before that melts."
Gore, who arrived in a new hybrid Mercury, sat beside a stack of brown boxes with 516,000 messages urging "real action" that had been gathered in a few days on his Web site, AlGore.com.
"There is a sense of hope in the country that this United States Congress will rise to the occasion and present meaningful solutions to this crisis," he said. "Congress is a repository of hopes and dreams of people all across this earth."
Democrats generally hailed Gore as a man who saw the dangers of global warming coming 30 years ago, and Republicans dismissed him as an alarmist.
Gore's ideas include a pollution tax, an immediate freeze on carbon dioxide emissions with sharp reductions in future years, stricter vehicle fuel mileage rules, a moratorium on construction of highly polluting coal-fired power plants, a strong global climate-change treaty and the creation of a federally operated Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association, which would serve as incentive for building energy-efficient homes.
"I listen to you sometimes in wonderment," said Rep. Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, predicting that Gore's proposals would cost "tens of thousands of jobs and more empty factories."
Rep. Ralph M. Hall, a Texas Republican, complained of an "all-out assault" on energy sources that he said are critical to economic and national security.
Gore acknowledged that his proposals face serious obstacles. In calling for a pollution tax, he said, "I fully understand this is considered politically impossible, but part of our challenge is to expand the limits of what's possible." He urged his former colleagues to "walk through that fire."
The exchanges were sometimes confrontational, especially during the hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Gore dueled with one of the chief congressional skeptics on global warming, Sen. James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican.
"It seems that everything is blamed on global warming," Inhofe said. "Last summer, we had a heat wave and everyone said, 'Oh, that's proof it's global warming.' Then we had a mild December. 'Oh, that's proof that global warming is taking place.' ... How come you guys never seem to notice it when it gets cold?"
Gore held firm, noting that a manatee showed up near Memphis, Tenn., last summer. "First time ever," he said. "It got too hot in southern Florida. I'm not making this up. Another one showed up off of Cape Cod, first time ever. Nature is on the run."
Faye Fiore and Richard Simon write for the Los Angeles Times.