Partisan agony, ecstasy reflected in Capitol Hill mood swings
It’s a whole new world on Capitol Hill.
Congressional members and staffers slowly are getting used to the idea of Democrats being in the majority, and Republicans already miss the glamour and attention that came with power.
Majority Leader John A. Boehner strolled through the clubby Speakers Lobby on Congress’ first day back after the midterm elections, eyeing a gaggle of reporters swarmed outside the Democrats’ side of the chamber. Usually, they’d be on his party’s side, clamoring for a comment.
When asked how he was doing, the Ohio Republican replied dryly: “Lovely.”
The phones in the press office of outgoing Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois were eerily — and unusually — silent the week after the election, but aides for Democratic Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi of California had their BlackBerries pressed to their ears nearly 24/7.
AndMrs.Pelosi’sDemocratsare basking in the spotlight after winning more than two dozen seats in the midterm elections.
“We’re still pinching ourselves,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo.
The California Democrat first came to Congress in 1993, and enjoyed one short-lived term in the majority before the Republicans swept the races and took over in 1994.
“It sure is fun to come back and know you have a better than good chance to get an amendment through and be heard on the floor,” she added.
As senators voted Nov. 16 on the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation bill, lame-duckRepublicanSen.George Allen sat alone at his desk, rifling through papers. At one point he huddled with Republican Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Conrad Burns of Montana, and the trio of Nov. 7 losers seemed to hold a postmortem on their races.
But the kicker was when Mr. Allen amicably chatted with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon — Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York strolled by, hardly giving a glance to the man whose defeat he helped orchestrate, resulting in the Democrats seizing the Senate ma- jority.Ashepassed,Mr.Allenlooked up and called “Hey, Charlie!”
Forcedtoacknowledgethelameduck Virginian, Mr. Schumer, leader of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, backpedaled and grabbed Mr. Allen’s hand for a hard shake.
They exchanged pleasantries while keeping their grips locked for an uncomfortable 30 seconds, and then Mr. Schumer patted Mr. Allen twice on the left shoulder, hard. As he walked away, Mr. Schumer grinned.
Other Republican senators left their policy lunch that same week with grim faces. Most just shuffled past reporters, realizing no one wanted their opinions.
It’s easy to identify staffers — the Democrats are the ones giving high-fives. The Republicans, especially the newly unemployed ones, are getting pitying pats on the back.
“I’ve been better,” a harried staffer said, glaring at a smiling Democrat standing nearby.
The Democrats aren’t shy about enjoying the changing tide.
“Are you kidding me? It feels great,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat.
“It really is quite fun,” agreed 24- year incumbent Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia. “It was quite an adjustment for me after 12 years in the majority. It’s good to have it back.”
The Democrats’ new House majority leader, Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, noticed the renewed press attention at his weekly briefing.
“It used to be such a small meeting,” he said.
Some Republicans have an inevitable feeling of dread, knowing it’s payback time.
“They’re going to be tough on us, butquitehonestly,weweretoughon them,” said Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia.
The Republican survivors completely unfamiliar with being in the minority are still a bit shell-shocked.
“Canwetalkaboutnextyearnext year?” asked Rep. Thelma Drake, Virginia Republican, who fended off her first re-election challenge.
Democratic Rep. Patrick J. Kennedyhappilytoldanothermember he was re-elected to his Rhode Island seat with 69 percent of the vote: “My best numbers ever.”
Similar excited conversation continued onto the floor recently, irritating Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, who was acting as speaker. He slammed down the gavel multiple times, demanding: “Order, please! Members in the back of the chamber will take their conversations outside!”
It seems there’s plenty of irritation to go around.
Two recurring phrases around the House are causing Republicans to grimace ever-so-slightly: “Speaker Pelosi” and “Minority Leader Boehner.”
“I’ve got to get used to saying that,” one member said.
Going down? Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, shares an elevator ride with staffers in the Capitol, where mood swings from the right to the left were apparent after the midterm elections brought in a Democratic majority after 12 years of Republican control.