By Kelly McCormack - 02/27/07 08:44 AM EST
As Rep. Dean Heller’s (R-Nev.) wife prepared to drop him off at the Vienna Metro stop one morning on his commute to Capitol Hill, she took one look at his outfit, turned the car around and drove right back home.
“I’m colorblind,” said Heller, who was wearing a deep-purple shirt with a lavender tie sporting geometric shapes.
His wife put it bluntly: “Your tie doesn’t match your shirt,” she said. But Rep. Heller still doesn’t know just how bad the color combination was, and he thinks that it may have been maroon and purple. All the congressman knows is that he “would’ve looked very Las Vegas-style.”
On that occasion, Heller avoided what could have been a fashion faux pas, but he has had other embarrassing moments in his first two months as a freshman member.
Once he was so fixated on obeying the law and not jaywalking that he didn’t cross the street.
“I went to cross the street, but the [light] didn’t say to walk. I didn’t realize they shut down the light [during a vote so congressmen can cross the street],” Heller said. “A Capitol policeman said, ‘It’s green for you.’ I just stood there and stood there and stood there. I think [he] saw the dilemma when a guy was just standing there.
“It wasn’t very embarrassing, but I just felt stupid,” Heller said.
Many freshman members on Capitol Hill are not familiar with the ins and outs of the buildings, tunnels, rules and procedures. They get turned around in the tunnels and hallways, use the wrong terminology and make other little mistakes. It takes time to get accustomed to the Capitol.
For Republican Rep. Bill Sali (Idaho), following instructions led him to the Democratic conference.
“I ended up walking up to the Cannon building,” Sali recalled. “My schedule said I was supposed to go there for the Republican conference. I was walking up and saw an array of cameras.”
Sali said he knew that he wasn’t in the right place, but he had to ask Democrats where his conference was.
“I was over there asking Democrats where my conference was,” Sali exclaimed. “I try to follow instructions, and what do I do?”
But he’s not that embarrassed.
“There are a lot of wide-eyed freshmen. I don’t think I’ve embarrassed myself that much,” he said.
Other lawmakers miss votes.
The day that new members were sworn in, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) was speaking to a reporter in Statuary Hall. He wasn’t aware that the House was voting and ended up being rushed to the floor, but he got there too late.
“[My staff] finally found me and it was too late to use my card,” Yarmuth said. “[A former lawmaker] was sitting right there, laughing at me.”
Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) says he has had some embarrassing moments that aren’t print-worthy. But he admits that he once got lost when a camera crew was following him.
“A camera crew was following me around in the room lottery,” Space said. “I got lost and just kept walking and walking and eventually said, ‘I’m lost.’”
But Space said he isn’t the only lawmaker who has gotten lost while being trailed by a camera crew.
“I ran into [Former House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and he said the exact same thing happened to him,” Space said.
Another freshman, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), was embarrassed after she asked a certain someone for directions.
“I was running to a meeting with another congressman and got turned around in the Capitol,” Shea-Porter said. She asked someone where to go “and it turned out to be Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post.”
Getting lost has also been a problem for North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler (D).
He said the most embarrassing moments thus far have been “not knowing where I am, especially in the Rayburn Building,” adding, “I must have this look on my face like, ‘I have no idea where I’m going.’ A lot of people will say, ‘Are you lost?’”
Some are luckier. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a former federal tax attorney, says she hasn’t had any embarrassing moments so far as a freshman.
“Don’t you have to be up here for a little longer?” she asked.
But another freshman, Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.), botched some technical wording on the House floor.
“I said ‘Mrs. Speaker’ instead of ‘Madam Speaker’” to the congresswoman who was “in the chair as speaker,” Bachmann recalled.
Fallin doesn’t remember who the congresswoman was, but the woman just gave her a smile when she used the wrong term.
Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) says he is directionally challenged.
“I have [embarrassing moments] every day when I get lost,” Hodes said, laughing. “I’m directionally dyslexic. I’m a walking embarrassment when it comes to direction.”
Otherwise, Hodes said, he has been “pretty lucky” and has avoided embarrassing moments. Well, at least he thinks he has.
“I played guitar at the Democratic retreat,” Hodes said. “I don’t think I embarrassed myself. You’ll have to ask [someone else, though].”