Good Night, Chamber

Posted May 21, 2007 at 6:31pm



Correction Appended

No one can blame Members of Congress for taking the occasional nap in the House chamber. Those comfy seats, the periods of dull debate, those late nights — they practically invite a good snooze. [IMGCAP(1)]

The trick, which Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) apparently hasn’t learned, is that if you’re going to sneak in a doze, you shouldn’t sit behind the guy on whom the cameras are trained.

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) was waxing eloquent — or perhaps monotone — during Thursday’s debate over the GOP motion to recommit on the defense authorization bill. Skelton’s dulcet tones apparently lulled Nadler, who was sitting just behind Skelton, into a light sleep, prompting the New York Democrat to nod off for several minutes in full view of the cameras. Nadler’s eyes were doing that unmistakable blinking that signals an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to fight off encroaching sleep (HOH recognizes this from her own experiences in undergrad Elizabethan literature classes). A round of applause for a particularly firebrand floor speech, though, appeared to jolt Nadler out of slumber.

A Nadler spokesman said he didn’t know anything about the incident and couldn’t reach his boss to learn more.

Next time, HOH humbly suggests Members wishing to nap find a less conspicuous seat — like in the Senate chamber, where, if they’re in luck, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) will be reciting a bedtime story and everyone will be snoozing.

A Likely Story. Unlike a certain few of his colleagues who have been skipping Senate votes in favor of kissing babies on the presidential campaign trail, Sen. Johnny Isakson has a very good excuse for missing out on a recent vote. The Georgia Republican was having a root canal while the rest of the Senate engaged in the relatively fun activity of casting their yeas and nays on an amendment to the water resources bill the Senate was debating.

On Wednesday, Isakson explained to colleagues why he missed the previous day’s vote during a floor speech, calling the painful dental procedure “a bad way to miss a vote.”

Having partaken of only one of the two activities, HOH is still unsure which is more uncomfortable: running for president or having endodontic surgery.

No More Ramen. Lattes all around! The four House Members who ate for a week on the amount of funds that food-stamp recipients in their states receive are no doubt relieved that their week of eating frugally is over.

The exercise concluded last night, much to the relief of Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who finished his week of lentil-eating a little lighter. “As of last Friday, he had lost three pounds in three days, “ spokesman Michael Mershon said. “He said he hasn’t been complaining because he knows he’ll be able to eat a really big breakfast Tuesday, unlike a lot of people on food stamps.”

Another hardship McGovern encountered: caffeine deprivation. The Massachusetts Democrat could afford only a small package of joe on his $42 food budget, which included food for himself and his wife, Lisa. It was enough for two cups on Saturday and two cups on Sunday, but the java-addicted (and who on the Hill isn’t?) Congressman had to do without all week, since the rules of the challenge prohibited him from partaking of any free food, including the gratis coffee available in most offices.

Other Members who tried out the food-stamp diet included Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). McGovern and Emerson are sponsoring legislation to boost the amount set aside for the food-stamp program when the farm bill is reauthorized this summer.

Class Is in Session. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) had a bone to pick with a few of his colleagues who boasted that the immigration bill they negotiated last week was a product of legislative process straight out of a civics textbook. Not so fast, Sessions said, as he took to the floor Monday morning armed with a poster depicting “Schoolhouse Rock,” the educational children’s cartoon series that famously traced the progress of a bill “sitting here on Capitol Hill.”

Sessions, who apparently doesn’t much like the immigration bill itself, argued with its architects, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whom Sessions quoted as saying the bill “is pretty much what I was taught in grade school about the way the process works, not that everybody gets what they want, but everybody works together to achieve the best results for the most people.”

Sessions launched into a mini-civics lesson of his own. “I want to share a few things about how a bill should become a law and what we were taught in grade school,” he said, noting that by-the-book bills first go to committee, then the floor, unlike the immigration bill, which took a more, um, circuitous route.

Maybe they’d listen to Sessions if he launched into a rendition of the “Schoolhouse Rock” classic “I’m Just a Bill.”

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Correction: May 22, 2007
The article incorrectly identified cameras filming action on the House floor as “C-SPAN cameras.” The cameras are government-owned and operated, and C-SPAN airs the footage of floor proceedings.