As he strode down the hallway in the Cannon House Office Building, Rep. Connie Mack IV carried a silver gift bag overflowing with shiny tissue paper.
In her own office, Rep. Mary Bono Mack looked perplexed.
An early Valentine’s Day token? A very belated three-year wedding anniversary present?
“It’s just a little gift,” Mack said.
Many hubbies shower their wives with chocolates, flowers or tickets to the ballet this time of year. But let’s face it: Connie and Mary aren’t your typical couple.
The twosome has a unique relationship. Bono Mack represents parts of California; Mack speaks for Florida.
They’re one of four married couples in American history to serve in Congress side by side. They met on the Hill, fell in love and said “I do” while juggling long hours, campaigns and lawmaking.
That explains the odd gift. Sifting through the tissue paper, Bono Mack laughed as she pulled out a foot-long wooden gavel. It was Mack’s way of saying congratulations to his wife, who recently began her stint as chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.
Steak and Sitcoms
On the surface, the handsome couple looks like a commonplace husband and wife.
They live in Crystal City with their golden retriever, Aspen, and enjoy steak and prime rib at their favorite restaurant, the Woodmont Grill in Bethesda. They DVR their favorite TV shows, including CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” and ABC’s “Modern Family,” when House votes run late.
“There’s a lot more normalcy to us than people might expect,” Mack said.
They watch Fox News while eating dinner. They chat about their children from previous marriages and discuss their days at work.
Like many couples, their relationship is filled with flirtatious banter.
“You’ve never cooked for us,” Bono Mack said while describing how the two divvy up daily chores.
“That’s not true,” Mack interjected. “I made hot dogs. I’ve made a sandwich. I order pizza.”
Bono Mack rolled her eyes and shrugged. At least he makes a “mean barbecue,” she said.
And besides taking out the garbage and doing the dishes, Mack drives. “I have a better [driving-to-accident] ratio than you, dear,” he said.
Bono Mack’s eyes rolled again.
“I just happen to hit the curb one time coming out of Taco Bell, and he won’t let me forget it,” she explained.
A Weekday Marriage
And yet for all the normality, many things set the Macks apart from other couples, including their married colleagues.
Whereas most lawmakers use the weekends to return home, catch up with their spouses and bond with their children, Bono Mack and Mack see each other more frequently during the business week.
At the beginning of long weekends, they kiss goodbye at the airport and go their separate ways. Mack heads south to check on his district while Bono Mack flies west. (The separation could get worse if Mack decides to run in a competitive primary for the Senate seat in Florida).
Getaway weekends with the entire blended family are few and far between.
“With two offices, two campaigns, two districts, kids and a dog, it’s hard to find a time when we can just go somewhere,” Mack said.
To make up for lost time, the Macks lunch together when possible, drop by each other’s offices when they get a free minute and walk to the Capitol together for votes. They chatter about how they voted on various bills and proposals they intend to make.
Both Republicans, Bono Mack and Mack find themselves in agreement on most things political — but there are shades of gray.
Last week, for instance, Mack voted against reauthorizing provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act when Bono Mack voted yea. She also voted to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” last Congress; he voted nay.
“In years past, we’d discuss these issues a little more, but nowadays I think we just know where we stand.” Bono Mack said. “It’s rare that we try to convince the other to change.”
Mack has even voted against at least one of Bono Mack’s bills. She had co-sponsored the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009.
“I got a lot of grief, not really from Mary, but from our colleagues,” Mack said. “They asked ‘How can you vote against your wife’s bill?’”
But even when they disagree on politics, “we always agree that I’m right,” Bono Mack added — and that makes everything peachy.
Mack nodded: “The secret to a happy marriage is [knowing] you can either be happy or you can be right. I tell everyone I’m a happy man.”
Spouses With Benefits
Despite their busy schedules and the constant drone of politics, the Macks agree that being married to another lawmaker has its benefits.
“We both know what it takes to be a Member of Congress, and everyday things happen that not every spouse would understand,” Mack said. “Being married to a Member ... we’re understanding of those challenges.”
They both can relate to “the craziness, the schedules, the stress levels, the preoccupation — all of those things,” Bono Mack added.
They also serve as advisers, brainstorming negotiating strategies, tweaking the wording in each other’s speeches and giving feedback on bill proposals.
Bono Mack is senior in Congress by a solid six years and that brings Mack some kidding. “It’s remarkable that he still cannot find his way from the Capitol building to the Rayburn Office without me,” she said.
Bono Mack said the key to their relationship is “finding joy and excitement in everything” they do together and recognizing the special moments, “whether we’re at the White House for a black-tie event or doing our jobs or filling the coffee pot in the morning.”
Sometimes that means pausing together on the Capitol steps and appreciating their unique relationship, Mack added.
“We have votes Monday night, right?” Bono Mack asked Mack last week. “We got to talk to Eric Cantor about that, scheduling votes on Valentine’s Day.”
That’s unfortunate for Members and their spouses back home, but for the Macks it’s another day together.