Many lawmakers had planned other ways to spend a Saturday

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was going to spend his Saturday cheering his heart out on the sidelines of his 12-yearold son’s championship peewee football game.

While Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was planning to watch his grandson’s soccer game, catch some of the Notre Dame vs. Navy football game, and then go out to dinner with his wife.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Instead I’ve got to look at my ugly staff and eat cold pizza,” King said with a laugh.

All of the House’s 435 members canceled their weekend plans and descended on Capitol Hill on Saturday morning for a rare weekend session of Congress to debate and vote on the lower chamber’s healthcare overhaul measure.

While none of the members that The Hill spoke with complained outright about having to abandon their Saturday plans, it was clear that everyone had something else they could be doing on the sunny fall day.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he would have been cruising down a road on his BMW 1200 motorcycle.

Checking his BlackBerry schedule, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said he would have been at the 2009 induction ceremony at the Hampton Roads African-American Sports Hall of Fame in Portsmouth, Va., and caught a college football game in the afternoon.

The East Front of the Capitol was smattered with nearly 40 cars and trucks belonging to lawmakers on Saturday as they flocked in and out of the House, making speeches and holding meetings in last-minute efforts to influence the vote expected late this evening or early tomorrow morning on the $1.2 trillion bill.

Only 13 such weekend sessions have been held in the 21st century, according to the Office of the House Historian. The last weekend that Congress met was Sunday, Sept. 28, 2008, when it was working overtime to create a financial bailout bill to blunt economic distress.

Some members had to call off scheduled appearances, like Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who was planning on going to the Redskins’ FedEx Field in her home state on Saturday, where veterans were being given free health screenings.

If she wasn’t there, Edwards, who supports the healthcare measure, said she’d be in her district talking about the need to pass the bill.

Rep. Eliot Engle (D-N.Y.), whose district is home to the Yankees baseball team that won the 2009 World Series championship, said since he missed the team’s parade on Friday he would have spent Saturday trying to hold his own celebration, while walking through his district talking with constituents.

Though she wouldn’t be on Capitol Hill, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Ethics Committee, said she would have been working on her laptop, albeit in her backyard basking in the sunshine.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) was also planning to put in some work, campaigning this Saturday thousands of miles away on his home island.

Congress has met much more frequently on Saturdays than on Sundays.

From 1937 to 1978, Congress only met once on a Sunday. And in the past 20 years, the House has met only 21 times on a Sunday: four weekends just before the midterm election of 1990 and four weekends in a row around the turn of the year in 1995 during the government shutdown.

Though votes and speeches kept members walking between the House and their offices across Independence Avenue, some members yearned for a different sort of exercise.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said he would be at home spending time with his family and gearing up for ski season by going for a hike in the mountains near his house.

And Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said he would have taken the day to do some long overdue housework, like raking the accumulating layers of leaves in his yard back home.

But if he was in Washington D.C., Lewis said he would have been strutting down the National Mall in his workout clothes, enjoying the sunshine.

Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) also had other plans today.

"I would have taken my son to soccer practice at 11, then my daughter to gymnastics at noon, and then tonight I'd go and see Michael Jackson's [new film] 'This Is It' just one more time!" he laughed.

"But seriously, this," he said, gesturing toward the House floor, "this is it, today." 

Christina Wilkie contributed to this report