As a man dressed like Schoolhouse Rock’s famous bill danced around the House steps in between photos with Democratic representatives Thursday afternoon, a Christian singer-songwriter and failed congressional candidate led a group of around 30 staffers in hymns and prayers, while another man on a semi-recumbent bicycle campaigned for dictator.
In other words, things on Capitol Hill are finally returning to normal — here, a truly relative term — as security measures and COVID prophylactics relax, allowing colorful constituents to bedazzle lawmakers and tourists to roam again just outside the Capitol’s gray marble facade.
This was not the first time progressives demonstrated in front of the Capitol since perimeter fencing, erected after the Jan. 6 attacks by a pro-Donald Trump mob, came down in July. Nor was it the first time Rick Hohensee, our would-be supreme ruler with a bone to pick about deficit spending and the Federal Reserve, cycled over to lobby lawmakers again as he has done routinely since 2004. And Sean Feucht, who spoke briefly with Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado just before his sing-a-long on the House steps, spent much of the last year and a half holding mask-free concerts across the nation.
But Thursday’s confluence of costumed and acoustic attention seekers created the kind of chaotic absurdity that was once common around the Capitol but has largely been absent the last many months.
Before COVID, it was common to see a shark roaming the hallways, warning lawmakers about the dangers of predatory loans, or Monopoly’s Rich Uncle Pennybags sitting behind testifying Wall Street CEOs. Advocates frequently dressed up to draw attention to their concerns.
According to “Bill,” the 32-year old D.C. resident in the Schoolhouse Rock costume who declined to give his name, the goal was to rally support for the Build Back Better Act that Democrats hope to pass out of the House this week. “I want the folks that work down here to get our bill across the way,” he said. “We’re hoping to bring some positive energy.”
“Bill” came from Care in Action, a labor group focused on organizing domestic workers, which explained their cheerleading in an emailed statement. “The Build Back Better Act is on the one-yard line in the House, and we’re doing everything we can to push it over the goal line,” said Christina Coleman, the group’s communications director, who noted that the bill includes $150 billion for home care.
Dozens of Democratic members and staff, walking over to vote Thursday on a measure expanding the languages TSA brochures are written in, stopped to grab photos with the anthropomorphic bill, made to look like the singing cartoon character from the 1970s. (In a coincidence, the man responsible for composing the iconic Schoolhouse Rock segment, Dave Frishberg, died this week at the age of 88.)
“I think he’s awesome,” said Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M, after taking a selfie. “I love that he's out here advocating to turn himself into a law.”
“Bill” estimated around 30 Democratic lawmakers had taken photos with him that day, while Republicans mostly walked by rolling their eyes. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said he looked like a cigarette.
As Rep. Mark Takano gleefully sang, “I’m just a bill / Yes, I’m only a bill / And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill,” at the base of the House steps, above him a semi-circle drew around Feucht and his guitar. He began with a few rounds of the chorus from “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” the English version of the ancient yuletide hymn, “Adeste Fideles,” before launching into some more contemporary pieces. In between songs, Feucht, a Republican who finished third in the 2020 primary for California’s 3rd District, led his small crowd in prayer.
“We pray, God, today for a move to take place in our lifetime — in this season — with this crazy, divisive, polarized season that we're living in, God do something miraculous!” Feucht said.
Despite that seemingly ecumenical message, Feucht said opposition to Build Back Better was what drew him to the Capitol Thursday. “Obviously, I don’t like the bill,” he said. “But I think that, rather than get on Twitter and rage about it, sometimes the most proactive thing we can do is pray.”
“This is not a protest, primarily,” Feucht added. “We’re just saying, 'God, we need you in America.'”
All the while Hohensee hung around on his bike, his white beard poking through a cutout in the sign he held advertising his website, rickfordictator.com. A familiar sight around the Hill, Hohensee chatted about bikes with a lobbyist and took photos with tourists. He stayed away from Congress during the height of the pandemic but started riding by again a few weeks ago. “They still keep the plaza closed a lot,” he complained, noting how the west side of the Capitol was barricaded yesterday because of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit. “That’s kind of a pain.”