Pages are back in the Senate after a pandemic hiatus

Vaccinated and masked, the teens returned this week

Senate pages arrive in the Capitol from the Senate subway on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate pages arrive in the Capitol from the Senate subway on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 14, 2021 at 5:20pm

Gaggles of teens sporting nametags, matching navy blue suits and an interest in learning about the legislative process can mean only one thing in the Senate — pages are back in the building.

“I saw them today for the first time,” freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville said Monday. “I asked somebody, ‘Who are all these?’ They were all dressed alike walking around.” 

The program, which brings high school juniors from across the country to the Capitol, had been on hiatus since the pandemic began. Starting Monday, the 30 pages — 16 for the majority party and 14 for the minority party — officially began ferrying documents and doing other duties on the Senate side.

Tuberville said the page program reminds him of the formative experiences young people get at camps — including at the football-centric ones he used to run — and indicates that some semblance of normalcy is returning to the Capitol.

“That’s what the last year and a half has done,” said the former college football coach and current Republican senator from Alabama. “It’s really hurt young people, having the opportunity to do things like going to camps.”

Pages were required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before serving in the program and were seen wearing masks while walking around the Capitol. All pages provided proof of current negative PCR tests upon arrival under guidance from the Office of Attending Physician, an official in the Office of the Sergeant at Arms said. 

The official added that the teens will be tested weekly at the Capitol, but did not provide details about what would happen if pages were to get sick, including whether they would be sent home or quarantined in Washington.

As COVID-19 cases waned in early summer, the U.S. Senate Page Board met and ultimately decided the conditions were safe to allow the teens to return to the building. 

The program’s academic year consists of two semesters, one that runs from September through mid-January and the second from mid-January until mid-June. There are also two shorter three- or four-week sessions in the summer. The Sergeant at Arms office supervises the Senate page program.

The high school juniors, ages 16 or 17, attend the U.S. Page School in the early morning and then divide up to tackle a variety of jobs during the day. Pages can be seen darting around to prepare the Senate chamber, as well as transporting bills and delivering correspondence. 

“I’ve been yearning for them to return because of their energy, their kindness and their support,” said New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker. “They really are part of the groups that make this place run.” 

Booker said that over his eight years in the Senate he’s met a lot of extraordinary pages and that having them around adds “humanity to this place.”

Generations of pages have served the institution since the early days of the United States, and some have even gone on to sit in Congress themselves, like Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the appointment of the first female pages, the U.S. Capitol Page Alumni Association is planning an Oct. 22 event, said Jerry Papazian, the group’s president.

Alumni are “thrilled” to see pages return to the Hill, said Papazian, who served in the now-shuttered House page program from 1971 to 1972.

Since the pandemic began, lawmakers have been holding whirlwind sessions and passing some of the largest bills in history. Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said that with so much happening during the country’s worst pandemic in a century, the page absence “wasn’t really at top of mind.” 

But “if we do it safely, it’s a great opportunity for them,” Blumenthal added.

In one of the final events pages experienced before being sent home in 2020 as a then-mysterious illness started to spread across the country, they lent a hand during President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial. Pages could be seen running papers and delivering glasses of water — and sometimes milk — to the senators who were forced to stay in the chamber for hours on end during the proceedings. 

During the second impeachment trial earlier this year, senators were stuck fending for themselves. Despite their absence, lawmakers managed to make it through the slog.

“Well, we survived,” Blumenthal said.