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Humor Helped Staffers Cope With Shutdown Fever

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Rep. Louie Gohmert gave a Capitol tour to a group of Texas A&M alumni late Friday night before heading to a GOP Conference meeting where a spending deal was announced.

As the building closed its doors to the public, a foreboding silence enveloped the halls, presaging what the Capitol would have looked like had Congressional leaders not reached a deal. When the day’s bustling activity ends, the Capitol’s cavernous halls are vast and vacant.

A handful of overnight workers collected garbage in the House and Senate office buildings, manned one still-running Senate subway train, repaired an escalator and swept Emancipation Hall under the gaze of the model of the Statue of Freedom. Senate elevator operators were on hand as long as the floor remained open. All wondered and asked what the latest news was.

“If the clock hits 12, we walk off the post,” said one employee, relating the instructions given in case a deal was not reached.

A worker in the Dirksen print shop listlessly watched television news to see whether the store would operate with a skeleton crew on Monday or be normally staffed.

Capitol Police officers dutifully manned their stations at buildings’ entrances and stairwells with no furlough threat. There was little action, but officers were told to remain alert, according to an internal memo obtained by Roll Call.

“If there is a government shutdown, there is a movement on Facebook for people to dump trash at the Capitol and at some leadership residences,” the note instructed, a reference to a plan to dump garbage at Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) town house on Saturday morning. “Please closely monitor cameras and if any issues arise please ensure appropriate action is taken.” 

Bleary-eyed Members roamed the halls at night, told to keep their schedules open in preparation for eleventh-hour votes.

But Rep. Louie Gohmert took it as a chance to squeeze in some late-night constituent relations. Around 10 p.m., he was explaining the sprawling scenes depicted by the Rotunda’s grand paintings to a group of about 20 fellow Texas A&M University graduates.

“I knew I was going to be up here waiting tonight,” the Texas Republican said. “I was going to try to show them all I could before we did this.”

He would have to cut the tour short. Between the story of the close friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and the tale of George Washington resigning his military commission, Gohmert took a cell phone call summoning him to the Republican Conference meeting.

There, Boehner would inform his rank and file that a deal was struck to keep the government open. Reporters swarmed Members, many of whom were dressed in jeans and snacking on Doritos or other light fare.

Regardless of the outcome, at least three staffers had their jobs intact: They hustled a set of flags through the hall from Boehner’s press conference.

Far from the red blazer he was offered earlier in the day, Harper was wearing a tuxedo after the meeting. His daughter, Maggie, is Mississippi’s Cherry Blossom Princess and Harper had just come from the Grand Ball. “Thankfully I got to escort her before I came over,” he said.

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