Par­ti­san agony, ec­stasy re­flected in Capi­tol Hill mood swings

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Christina Bellantoni

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.

Katie Falkenberg / The Wash­ing­ton Times

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.

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