Wednesday’s trip to Capitol Hill was amazing. I spent most of the afternoon with Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, her staff, supporters and family, including a trip to the basement of the Capitol for her ceremonial swearing-in photo with Speaker John Boehner.
The lady in the middle holding the Bible is Congresswoman Buerkle’s 89-year-old mother.
I’ll be back to update with more from yesterday’s event-filled trip — including the story of how one of my Tweets started a rumor about Tabitha Hale getting married. (Don’t worry guys, she’s still available. But you’d better move fast. Once I start this matchmaking thing, sometimes girls will just marry any old random stranger so I’ll stop pestering them.)
UPDATE: While I was on Capitol Hill, the Lonely Conservative blogged John Boehner’s swearing-in, with this video via the Right Scoop:
When Pete Da Tech Guy and I visited Buerkle’s 25th New York district in mid-October, we crashed at the Lonely Conservative’s house. Back with more updates in a few minutes.
UPDATE II: Interview with You-Know-Who:
UPDATE III: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:
Buerkle, a former nurse and lawyer for the state attorney general’s office, described her swearing-in as “a tremendous honor.”
“At the same time you’re humbled by the responsibility of the office and representing the district, and not wanting to let down the people who are back home in our district,” she said.
Buerkle’s family — including two brothers, two of her six children and her 89-year-old mother — came to Washington for the swearing-in ceremony. Buerkle said her family’s presence was what she most looked forward to during her first day as a congresswoman.
“I’m very proud, and her father would have been too. She’s so much like him,” said Buerkle’s mother, Sadie Colella of Auburn.
Buerkle’s younger brother, Tom Colella, who worked as a senior adviser for her campaign, said watching the ceremony was “truly historic and very exciting.”
The reporter who wrote that, Elizabeth Bewley, is with Gannett’s D.C. bureau. I was talking to her and asked her name and when she said, “Bewley,” I thought she said, “Bueller.” Of course, this immediately made me think of the movie line: “Bueller? Bueller?”
Tom Colella is a great guy. I had a chance to talk to him when Buerkle’s supporters held a reception last night at the Dubliner. More updates in a few minutes.
UPDATE IV: Regular readers will remember that the day Da Tech Guy and I arrived in Buerkle’s district was the same day a Siena College poll — front-page news in the Sunday edition of the Syracuse Post-Standard — showed Democrat incumbent Dan Maffei leading Buerkle 51-39. At Wednesday night’s reception, I had a chance to speak to Republican pollster John McLaughlin, who explained why that was a “drive-by poll”:
McLaughlin says: “They were biasing the questionnaire within a biased sample.” The Siena poll surveyed registered voters (not properly screened for likely voters) and the questionnaire began by asking a serious of questions about controversial issues (e.g., extending the Bush tax cuts) that had the effect of biasing the response to the question of how the respondent would vote in the congressional election. This demonstrates how sloppy reporting of poll data can result in journalism that is badly misleading.
UPDATE V: Mark Weiner of the Post-Standard reports on how a scheduling conflict led to Buerkle missing her first vote of 112th Congress:
About an hour after newly elected Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, administered the mass oath of office for all 435 House members, Buerkle had to rush from the House floor. She had a 3:30 p.m. appointment for a one-on-one ceremonial swearing-in for the cameras with Boehner and her family members.
By leaving the House floor, Buerkle missed the first vote on a resolution by the 112th Congress and her first as a member of the House of Representatives. She was among 20 House members (and 16 Republicans) to miss the procedural vote on adopting the rules of the new Congress.
Buerkle and about a dozen family members, meanwhile, stood for about 20 minutes under hot television lights while waiting for Boehner to arrive for the ceremony. Eventually, an aide brought water and a chair for Buerkle’s 89-year-old mother, Sadie, who made the trip to Washington from Auburn.
I’m told that Buerkle will be able to amend the record to reflect her “yes” vote on the resolution.
The first day of the new Congress was kind of a scramble, and not just for Buerkle. I got to Capitol Hill about 1:30 p.m. When I parked at the Union Station garage, my plan was to head to the Longworth House Office Building, where my friend Ericka Andersen has landed a job as press secretary to newly-elected Rep. Todd Rokita (IN-4) I figured I’d drop by and say “hi” to Ericka and then check the directory to locate other new members’ offices (the online congressional directory hadn’t been updated prior to the swearing-in).
As I walked past the Hart Senate Office Building entrance on Delaware Avenue, however, I had an idea. So I went inside and asked the security guard, “Where’s Marco Rubio’s office?” He gave me directions: Down the hall, through the tunnel to the Dirksen building, take a right through the cafeteria . . .
Alas, poor Marco! Florida’s Tea Party superstar has been stuck in a temporary office in the basement, behind the cafeteria, on a dead-dead corridor across the hall from the Senate stationery store!
The new senator himself wasn’t in — “spending some family time” after the swearing-in, his receptionist said. Rubio’s office is next door to the temporary office of newly-elected Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana. A staffer in Coats’ office explained to me that unlike the House — where departing members are whisked out of their offices and the new members whisked in before the swearing-in — the Senate gives departing members up to five months to clear out of their offices. So new senators like Rubio and Coats might not be in their permanent offices until May.
Anyway, after I’d jotted down the names of the press secretaries for these two new members (collecting such contacts being the main purpose of my trip), then I went back to the elevator to get up to the ground floor and make my way out. As I approached the elevator, I saw a familiar face.
“Senator Lott!” I said. For indeed, there was Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, former Senate majority leader, just walking down the hall. No entourage, no aides or staffers or reporters following him around — just a senator walking through the basement of the Dirksen building.
“How you doing?” said Sen. Lott, who didn’t seem to recognize me as well as I recognized him. “You having a good time?”
“Oh, yes — having a great time!” I answered. “Good to see you.”
“Thanks — good to see you, too,” he said, and off he went. Whether he was going to get some stationery or to check in on Rubio and Coats, I’m not sure.
My adventure on Capitol Hill continued, but I’ll tell the rest of it in the next update. Have you contributed to Shoe Leather Fund yet?
UPDATE VI: Leaving the Dirksen building, I continued up toward the Capitol, crossing Constitution Avenue. I walked south across the east front of the Capitol — past the rows of SUVs and town cars waiting to convey congressional leaders to their post-swearing-in destinations — and when I got to the other side, near Independence Avenue, I saw a small group of pro-life protesters:
Nearby, famous pro-life activist Randall Terry was recording his podcast/broadcast TV show:
I had a good conversation with Mr. Terry who, despite his firebrand reputation as the founder of Operation Rescue, is actually a genial and humorous fellow. While I was talking to him, I saw a familiar face coming up the sidewalk from the direction of the Longworth building:
Excuse the unfortunate shadow on the photo. That’s Deb McCown, whom I supervised when she was an intern at The Washington Times. Deb’s now an award-winning reporter for the Bristol (Va.) Herald-Courier and was in town to cover the swearing-in of Rep. Morgan Griffith (VA-9), whom regular readers will remember from my final trip of the 2010 campaign season.
Deb had been to Griffith’s office (1108 Longworth), where my buddy Blake Roark is now a member of Griffith’s congressional staff. Deb said Griffith wasn’t in his office, and she had been told he was in the Capitol, so she was hurrying on her way over there to try to find him for an interview. Obviously, she succeeded, because here’s her story for the Herald-Courier:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Speaking with his family outside the House chamber, U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith searched for a pen.
The only one he had was red, and he had to sign the paperwork that comes with taking office as a member of Congress: the oath of office and a pledge not to reveal any state secrets.
The Salem Republican, who unseated 28-year incumbent Rick Boucher in November’s election, was sworn in as Virginia’s 9th District Congressman on Wednesday, taking the oath along with other members of the 112th Congress.
Asked for an interview, he made an unusual request: “Let’s trade pens.”
“I’ve decided I’m not going to sign my oath in red,” he said. . . .
Read the rest of Deb’s story. It’s good to see a young journalist doing Old School reporting. Whether or not I deserve any credit for my former intern’s success, I’ll claim it anyway. And I’ll finish telling you about the rest of my day on Capitol Hill in another update but . . . hey, have you hit the tip jar yet?
UPDATE VII: OK, so Deb had to hurry off in pursuit of Griffith. I waved good-bye and headed off toward the Longworth building. The crossing light at Independence Avenue was red, so I had to wait. I glanced back toward the Capitol and did a double-take: Who was that familiar-looking lady walking down the sidewalk toward me?
It was newly sworn-in Congresswoman Buerkle, with some of her staff and family, en route to her new office which — as she informed me — was in 1630 Longworth.
Once again, I made a snap decision: I’d scratch my original plan and just shadow Team Buerkle. The new plan proved extraordinarily convenient from a journalistic perspective.
For example, when we got to the entrance to the Longworth building, there was a line to get through the metal detectors. But I was now part of a congressional entourage, you see. Buerkle flashed her membership pin and — whoosh! — we sailed right through the security checkpoint.
Kinda cool. Anyway, we went to her office and I made sure I got this photo:
That’s a photo I wasn’t sure I’d ever see. Remember that three-week vote count that didn’t end until the Democrat conceded right before Thanksgiving? Inside her office, several of Buerkle’s supporters who had traveled from New York for the swearing-in were waiting for her.
There was coffee and cookies (I never miss a chance at free food), and I talked to some of her supporters about the amazing campaign. They asked how I’d become interested in Buerkle’s campaign. I explained that several people (including the Lonely Conservative) had urged me to write about Buerkle. My first post on NY-25 was Oct. 12 — when I was in Boston to cover the Sean Bielat campaign, and I wrote:
Pete Da Tech Guy and I are planning a r0ad trip together and hope to visit the 25th District next week. The Cook Political Report just downgraded Maffei’s seat from “likely Democrat” to “lean Democrat,” and if you’ll go support Ann Marie Buerkle, it might be rated a “toss-up” by the time we get there.
Well, of course, by the time we did get there — Sunday, Oct. 17 – the situation looked bleak. Buerkle was being slammed with Democrat attack ads, and there was that Syracuse Post-Standard story about the poll showing her trailing by 12 points. That was absolutely the rock-bottom moment of the campaign and, frankly, I was a lot less confident at that point than my “landslide” prediction might have suggested.
Some of the New York folks I talked to yesterday at Congressman Buerkle’s office had been interviewed by Da Tech Guy at the Oct. 18 press conference where Ann Marie rebutted the Democrat attack ads. How weird was it — what a strange twist of fate — that out of all the congressional campaigns in the country, Pete and I just happened to show up in that district on that day? How strange that Buerkle ended up being the 242nd seat — the last Republican to clinch a win — in the biggest GOP landslide in more than 60 years?
While her supporters posed for pictures with the new Congresswoman at her Longworthy building office yesterday, her staff was busy arranging to get everyone back over to the Capitol for the swearing-in photo. They had to get a wheelchair for Mrs. Colella; it’s a long way through the subterranean passages between Longworth and the Capitol and, while Mrs. Colella is ambulatory, she walks slowly and that long trek would have been quite an ordeal for her.
Congresswoman Buerkle gave her supporters a brief speech, and then it was time for the family (and me) to depart to the Capitol with two staffers guiding the group. I’ll continue the story in the next update. And if you get the feeling maybe you should hit the tip jar . . . well, don’t fight the feeling!
UPDATE VIII: Sorry this story is taking so long to finish, but I keep getting interrupted by breaking news — a bomb scare in Maryland, Herman Cain speaking at CPAC — and so now we continue with the adventure.
We went into the catacombs beneath the Longworth Building and through a tunnel where we boarded a little subway train. I sat in the same car with Rep. Buerkle’s mother, brother and nephew. The train took us to the Capitol and we came in through the basement, until we arrived in Statuary Hall, where there was a table set up to sign in the members arriving for their photos. I took a few seconds of video:
Note Rep. Buerkle’s take-charge manner, leading the way. Also, notice her slightly exasperated expression: “Oh, no, it’s McCain with his pink camera again!” By this point, we were running a minute or two late, in part because Rep. Buerkle’s mother had to go by a wheelchair-accessible route through the underbelly of the Longworth building.
When we finally arrived in the room where they were getting the photos taken, there was a gaggle of reporters, photographers and TV cameras:
This is where the long wait began. Evidently, our delayed arrival had prompted Speaker Boehner to take a break. (I’ll just take a wild guess that he stepped out for a cigarette or two.) Meanwhile, staffers arranged Rep. Buerkle and her family for the their photo:
Speaker Boehner came in, quickly posed for photos, and left. We then exited through the other side of the room. Rep. Buerkle stopped for an interview with a reporter, and I bumped into Jon Ward of the Daily Caller. We talked a for minute, then I followed Rep. Buerkle’s part down a corridor where we bumped into yet another familiar face:
Rep. Renee Ellmers (NC-2) and Ann Marie have kind of become buddies in the 112th Congress. They both ran “outsider”-style grassroots campaigns and both had to go through extended vote-counts in close races. (Ellmers beat Bob Etheridge, who didn’t concede until Nov. 19.)
Anyway, after that surprise interview opportunity, I headed outside to check my phone calls — I’d turned my phone off while I was in the photo-op room — and then on to the evening’s celebrations. This is the part where one of my Tweets led to those Tabitha Hale marriage rumors. I’ll tell the rest of that story in the final update, but don’t you think it’s about time to hit the tip jar?
UPDATE IX: Before I split up with Team Buerkle, I made sure I got the answer to the key question: Where’s the party tonight?
It was a joyous discovery that the swearing-in reception would be held at The Dubliner, a fine establishment where I’ve enjoyed many a post-deadline refreshment. (The Dubliner is the nearest bar to the offices of The Washington Times, so that was where we’d meet for late-night beers back in the day.) And it was just three blocks away from the Union Pub, where Americans For Prosperity was hosting another reception.
As I walked back north in front of the Capitol, I did something professional D.C. journalists seldom do:
This kind of photo is a bit too tourist-y, you see. It’s weird how people take their vacations and come to Washington to see the sights that locals barely even notice. I usually come into DC via the GW Parkway and Connecticut Avenue, drive right past the Washington Monument and don’t even blink. Something else you get so used to seeing in D.C. that you don’t usually notice it:
That’s Brett Baier of Fox News doing a report in front of the Capitol. Actually, he was going over his notes prior to going on air. On days when something big like a State of the Union Address is happening, you’ll see six or eight camera crews scattered around the Capitol grounds doing what they call “stand ups.” Apparently the rule in TV news is, you aren’t really doing congressional reporting unless people can see the Capitol dome behind your head while you’re talking. I don’t think that rule applies to the Internet, but I figured I’d post that picture of me in front of the Capitol dome, just in case.
Well, I went to the Dubliner and, because I was a guest (and the beer was free) I consider the reception to be off-the-record. Let liberals imagine what they will: Lobbyists with briefcases full of unmarked bills from “secret foreign donors,” etc. In all truth, it was just a bunch of people having a party. And why shouldn’t they have a party? They won the election. I talked to some guys about the George Allen 2006 Senate campaign and one told me that Allen is definitely running in 2012. Is that some kind of “exclusive”? Don’t know. Don’t care. I was off the clock.
After about an hour, the guest of honor showed up — Congresswoman Buerkle had to go to another reception before she came to her own reception — and I stayed about another 30 minutes before leaving for the AFP blogger bash up Massachusetts Avenue at the Union Pub. That was where I found Tabitha Hale borrowing a fedora from this dude.
Tabitha (a/k/a Pink Elephant Pundit) is New Media director for FreedomWorks. She’s also from North Carolina and 25 years old — which makes her practically an old maid by down-home standards. So I started in on my usual pro-marriage encouragement harassment, telling these young folks they ought to run off and get married post-haste. And that’s when I Tweeted this:
How that blew up into a huge online controversy, I’m not sure. But if it results in Tabitha getting a diamond ring from somebody, I figure maybe she’ll finally hit my tip jar.