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Congressional Memories: Lawmakers Recall Their Standout Gifts

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Patrick Leahy displays a Hopalong Cassidy box camera he received as a Christmas present in the early 1950s.

First Set of Wheels

“My parents gave my sister and I a bicycle built for two,” Sen. Claire McCaskill said of the bicycle her parents “really couldn’t afford.” The Missouri Democrat is one of several Members who treasured a set of wheels. “My sister and I went everywhere together on it,” she said, adding that they would often ride to the library in their “little bitty town” and fill the bicycle’s basket with books before riding home.

“I think I was pretty excited about my first bicycle,” Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) said. “I rode it all over the place until we had to start taking the parts off it to fix my brother’s bike.”

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) received her first bicycle at 5 years old, but she couldn’t take it for a ride outside. “My father was stationed at an [Air Force base] in Ohio, and there was a lot of snow,” she said. “My parents had to clean everything out down in the basement and pop the training wheels on so I could ride it around down in the basement.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wouldn’t mind finding his favorite gift under the Christmas tree again. “It’s pretty tough to top the Big Wheel,” he said of the iconic children’s tricycle he got when he was 6 years old. “They don’t make enough Big Wheels these days. If they had a man size, I’d buy one. It’s still on my list. If I could ride one around the Capitol, I would.” He insists the Big Wheel didn’t come from his parents. “Santa gave it to me — what are you talking about?” he asked.

A red Radio Flyer wagon stands out for Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), but he didn’t find it under a tree on Christmas morning. “My three sisters went to sleep like they were supposed to do as Santa is coming, but I couldn’t,” he said. “So my father hid it under the house.” The next day, his father scolded him for staying awake, saying, “It’s really tragic that you caused Santa all of this trouble.”

Guns A-Blazin'

Guns also ranked high among lawmakers’ favorite gifts. “I remember my Daisy BB gun,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said. “That was a fantastic Christmas present when I was a kid. I wore it out.” King said he received the BB gun from his parents when he was about 9 years old, and he used it to shoot at backyard wildlife. “I shot a lot of sparrows, a few pigeons,” he said.

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