Mr. Quigley Comes to Washington … And Just in Time

As I wrote in one of my columns for The Hill newspaper this week, Mike Quigley (D) of Illinois was sworn in as the newest member of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night. Not a day too soon, if you ask me.

Just back in town one day after their traditional two-week spring break vacation (or Congressional District Work Period, to you and me) the Congress has already gotten itself all cranky and out of sorts with all this business about torture memos, the Jane Harmon wiretaps and any number of other matters. And it won’t get any better next week when everybody and their brother starts issuing report cards on President Obama’s first 100 days.

So, parachuting smack-dab in the middle of the legislative mosh pit (otherwise known as the House of Representatives), Quigley took the oath of office this week following his recent special-election victory to fill the vacancy created when Rahm Emanuel (D) resigned to become White House chief of staff.

Following a 15-minute vote on the Crane Conservation Act of 2009, Quigley was summoned to the front of the chamber so Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could administer the oath. The deed done, and with barely a minute logged on the congressional work clock, the newest of inductees approached the floor podium so he could address his new co-laborers in the vineyards of democratic rule.

Perhaps sensing an opening to make some peace between the cats and dogs, Quigley found a topic that they could all agree on — Rahm Emanuel. And more specifically — er, how to say this for a family audience — Mr. Emanuel’s “interesting” approach to politics.

Emanuel actually attended the swearing-in and stationed himself just off the House floor near the Democratic cloakroom. The newly sworn-in Quigley proceeded to bring the House down when he suggested that his style might be just a little different from the potty-mouthed Emanuel’s.

Click here to hear the Quigley line that broke the place up.

Rising to his feet and clapping his hands, that was Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) shouting, “Bravo! Bravo!” Emanuel, holding court as though in that final Al Pacino ring-kissing scene in “The Godfather,” seemed to be enjoying it most of all.

Quigley quickly turned serious, however, and talked about the privilege of serving during tough economic times.

“It is a humbling experience to take a job when people [back home] are losing theirs — and become a member of this House when people are losing theirs.”

Then he got to serve the people back home by voting for H.R. 411 — something called The Great Cats and Rare Canids Act of 2009.

I suspect Quigley’s constituents will cut him some slack if he exercised the tried-and-true new-kid trick of looking up at the color-coded electronic vote board to see how his fellow Democrat Illinoisans voted before he cast his historic first vote.

Later, Quigley participated in another Capitol Hill tradition — the mock swearing-in. The event is held just off the floor in a ceremonial office to give photographers an up-close photo opportunity with the Speaker and the new member with his family by his side.

ABC producer Dean Norland, a no-nonsense interrogator, lingered in the room for a few minutes after the photographers left so he could get some one-on-one time with Quigley, something of a fiscal watchdog who has said he will sleep in his congressional office to save money. Norland got a big smile from Quigley when he started out by asking, “Congressman — how does that sound?”

Following all this, I raced downstairs to the House steps and intercepted Emanuel before he hopped into his SUV to ask him his advice for the newest member of the House.

“Remember who sent him here,” Emanuel said.

Then Emanuel was driven off, presumably to the White House. No word on whether Quigley headed to the Longworth House Office Building schlepping a sleeping bag.

No matter where he lodged for the night, I expect he was up all night reading Great Cats and Rare Canids for Dummies, just in case the Chicago press corps wanted to do a little intellectual hazing of the newest kid in town.

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