Being in Congress means never having to wait for the Office of Personnel Management. On Tuesday, the government was closed because of Winter Storm Jonas' aftermath, but the Senate returned for a few minutes for a pro forma session run entirely by some of its female members .
And as the Washington area lurched back to life Wednesday on a three-hour delay for federal employees, House Democrats returned to Washington — and then promptly departed for Baltimore for an issues retreat that lasts until Friday. Told to assemble around 11:30 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building's horseshoe to board the buses for Charm City, only a trickle of congressional Democrats made it down at that time. Meanwhile, the buses were idling, the Cosi lunch boxes and newspapers were spread out, and staffers and Capitol Police officers were waiting.
"Mr. Foster is literally running through Rayburn!" a staffer barked to the waiting buses around noon Wednesday, referring to Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois, one of the last stragglers keeping the caravan of about 30 vehicles from beginning their journey.
Around 11:45, members started ambling out of the nearby Longworth and Rayburn buildings, ready to talk about their upcoming retreat, which will feature such speakers as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
At the top of the agenda, rank-and-file Democrats predicted, would be income inequality, which they say has motivated not just the Democratic presidential field, but also the GOP.
"Income inequality, concentration of power and wealth, those issues that seem to be resonating with the American people right now," said Rep. Raul Grijalva or Arizona, a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The Democrats got a little boost earlier in the morning when the White House announced it would propose $12 billion over 10 years in its upcoming budget blueprint to combat child hunger through a summer feeding program. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a co-chairman of the House Hunger Caucus, was heading to the White House for an event unveiling the proposal, and was pleased with the plan.
"It's great news. I think it's unconscionable that close to 17 million kids in this country are hungry, 47 million people overall. It's something that doesn't have to be, and it's an issue that demands a lot more attention than it's been getting. So I'm grateful that the White House has decided to have this gathering," he said.
Meanwhile, like a school field trip, the buses were divided alphabetically for the members: A-D, E-K, L-P and Q-Z. "It's all about your last name," asked Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., pointing to the bus.
Unless you're Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, of course. Hoyer stopped to chat with Fox News' Chad Pergram, then boarded Bus No. 1, A-D. But no one was about to tell the House's No. 2 Democrat he was on the wrong bus.
Capitol gadfly Rick Hohensee passed out literature titled "Obama Starting World War III" to members and staff. "You let me known when you have an independent retreat," he bellowed.
The last two holding up the caravan were Foster, who burst through the Rayburn doors with his rollerboard suitcase, and Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona.
"Mr. Foster? You're back there," an aide, said, pointing to Bus No. 3, E-K.
"Did he get a lunch?" the aide asked. Another staffer said, "No." The tables, at that point, had been broken down. The buffalo bleu or Tuscan chicken would have to wait.
That left Gallego, who was nowhere to be found. A few more minutes went by. It was time to roll.
Turns out, Gallego flew directly to Baltimore from Phoenix, but the list for the pickup at Rayburn wasn't updated to reflect that, hence the confusion. Something any school field trip organizer can relate to.
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