Dick Durbin, all cooped up

Life for a Senate leader, it turns out, isn't all swank hotels and ritzy fundraisers.

Sometimes it can mean holding court inside a five-by-eight-foot chicken coop.

That's where Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, ended up several years ago when he was visiting the benefactors of a U.S.-funded micro-credit program on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda.

The story came to light recently when President Obama's pick to be ambassador to Burundi recalled Durbin's visit during her nomination hearing. Dawn Liberi, a career member of the Foreign Service, served as the U.S. Agency for International Development's mission director in Uganda from 1998 to 2002.

“They cleared out one chicken coop and scrubbed it clean and moved out all the chickens into the other coop,” Durbin explained after Liberi put him on the spot. “And so [the chickens] weren't happy with my arrival or my visit, but the people couldn't have been more gracious.”

Durbin said the coop was “the only building they could find, I guess.”

He went on to illustrate the benefits of the small-scale loans to help women start businesses such as selling chickens or vegetables.

“When I asked one woman how micro-credit had changed her life, she said her knees had gone soft,” Durbin said. “I said, 'What does that mean?' and she said, 'I no longer have to crawl on my knees to beg my husband for money for the kids.'”