By Emily Heil - 01/16/07 12:00 AM EST
It sure feels like a new world order. Pictures of Ronald Reagan hang in old Democratic offices, and formerly mobbed Republicans now stroll around the Capitol without attracting notice.
Some things, though, remain reassuringly the same. Like the number of tobacky-chewin’ senators. The “chaw caucus” looked to have taken a hit during the November election, when the chamber’s chawin’-and-spittin’ Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) were ousted.
But have no fear, defenders of the chew ranks. In an odd coincidence, both senators were defeated by other tobacco-chewers.
Freshman Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who took Burns’s seat, indulges in the dip, though not frequently, spokesman Matt McKenna says. “It’s sort of a guilty pleasure for him.” Copenhagen long-cut is the new senator’s brand.
Allen’s successor, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), also has admitted to dipping into the dip. But Webb, too, takes a gentlemanly approach to his habit. He told NBC’s Tim Russert in an interview during the campaign that he never chews indoors.
Looks like those shiny spittoons on the Senate floor are safe.
House Republicans try to keep the party going
If press conferences were nightclubs, press secretaries would be the bouncers working the door. They man the metaphorical velvet ropes, making sure the place doesn’t get too packed or too unruly.
Even though they’re in the minority (a club that’s sooo last October), some House Republicans are still acting like they’re the hottest ticket in town. “Due to space limitations, media organizations are asked to designate only one representative per organization,” went a recent announcement of a soon-to-be routine weekly briefing for reporters with GOP Conference Chair Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The announcement went on to dictate the presser’s door policy. “The pen-and-pad session will begin PROMPTLY at 3 p.m. Latecomers will not be admitted to the conference room.”
Although the briefing was, in fact, well attended, reporters remember those not-so-distant days when Dems were in the minority and weekly briefings with then-Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were sparsely attended at best. Conference spokesman Ed Patru defended the GOP’s strict attendance dictates, saying that they ensure the room isn’t overcrowded and that starting precisely on time helps reporters get to other events.
But is he counting on the large crowd to keep showing, even once the GOP has settled into its minority status? “As long as we’re making news, people will come,” he assures us. Then he offered a little preview of the GOP’s new strategy for trying to make its minority status a little more interesting. “And as long as [Democrats] keep breaking promises, we’ll keep making news.”
Winners need directions, too
The halls of the Capitol can get awfully confusing. Even if you’re in the Congress. One member of the House’s new freshman class was wandering, looking lost, around on the second floor of the Senate side of the Capitol last Friday. Our tipster, an ever-helpful Senate staffer, noticed the confused woman’s lapel pin and figured her for a new member, although he couldn’t quite place her face. The woman approached him and asked if he could help her locate room 204.
What was she looking for? our gallant source asked. Maybe the Senate’s Mansfield Room, where lots of ceremonial, press and social events are held?
No, Rep. Confused replied. “I’m looking for Speaker Pelosi’s office.”
Here’s hoping there’s a friendly face around when she needs help with her locker.
And the Speaker wore symbols: ‘Pelosi pearls’ are a hot topic
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but pearls are a Speaker’s best accessory. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) penchant for pearls, usually multihued and practically jawbreaker-sized, is causing a stir — not to mention a few fashion copycats.
According to an LA Times story last month, one Angeleno pearl wholesaler has received calls from dozens of women demanding “Pelosi pearls,” the “muted, multicolor strand of South Sea Tahitian pearls” similar to the ones Pelosi wore during television appearances the day after Democrats took the House.
In addition to the rush on knockoff necklaces, the pearls have prompted a myriad of reactions. They’re too expensive and showy, some say (the L.A. pearl guy’s necklace was selling for $3,999, “a bargain compared with what [he] figures the real thing is worth”). Some Internet chatters call them stodgy; others peg them as a deliberate effort to soften Pelosi’s image. Then there’s the backlash to the backlash: Why should it matter what kind of necklace she wears? After all, no one obsessed over former Speaker Hastert’s tie.
Senate freshmen take a seat
The Democratic majority in Congress means that there’s a new crop of members to take over those snooze-inducing, er, we mean prestigious duties of presiding over the chambers’ gavels.
In the Senate, freshmen are shouldering a good bit of the duties, considered a little hazing ritual for the newbies.
And few of the apple-polishing members of the new class claim to be loving their stints. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has done two turns for a total of about four hours. And he swears he’s not bored. “It’s an honor, and kind of surreal — I mean, I’m president pro tempore of the Senate,” he gushed. “We’ve had some really interesting debates while I was in the chair.” Uh-huh.
When there’s downtime, Cardin says he uses it to chat with the parliamentarian to brush up on the Senate’s rules.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) says he, too, is totally psyched to sit in an uncomfortable chair and listen to his colleagues yammer on (our words, not his). “It’s thrilling to be presiding over the U.S. Senate,” he says. “We’re not being pressed into it,” he said of his fellow freshmen.