A debate simmered at the Capitol Thursday over procedures the U.S. may have used on terrorism suspects. At a White House meeting with President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) demanded the creation of a “truth commission” to investigate whether waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other practices constituted torture.
In a press release, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) euphemistically referred to these tactics as “advanced interrogation methods.”
But no interrogation methods were more advanced than the techniques of dozens of children who converged on Capitol Hill to pose questions to Pelosi on “Take Your Daughter or Son to Work Day.”
Pelosi invited parents who work in the House and Senate or report on Congress as journalists to bring their offspring along for her weekly press conference. The kids would get to probe Pelosi first before mom and dad would follow up with the usual legislative queries.
Children clutched Juicy Juice boxes and spiral notebooks as they plopped down in front of the reporters in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol. They looked like they were gathering at the county library on a Saturday afternoon for story hour. In her role, Pelosi abandoned the formal lectern that she usually stands behind at press conferences in favor a chair. The Speaker looked less like a politician and more like a kindergarten teacher preparing to share a picture book with her class. Pelosi then asked what she called the “more junior members of the press” to pepper her with questions.
First up was six-year-old Avery Donmoyer, daughter of Bloomberg’s Ryan Donmoyer. Earlier in the hall, Avery told me she intended to ask the speaker what her favorite law was. Avery’s father gently coached his daughter that she should say “favorite law you have passed.”
I asked Avery what her favorite law was.
“The (one) that cars can’t drive on the sidewalk,” responded Avery, not missing a beat. “Because then we can’t get hurt.”
Sure enough, a few minutes later, Avery queried Madam Speaker, complete with her father’s “perfecting amendment” about what was her favorite law “that you have passed.”
Pelosi said it was SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that now covers some 11 million American children.
Next in line was three-year-old Sienna Manatos, the niece of Pelosi aide Tom Manatos. But Sienna seemed a bit confused about what she was supposed to do once the speaker recognized her.
“You want to come over here and ask (your question)?” said Pelosi.
“I have three teachers,” Sienna blurted. “I have new teachers from the old school I had.”
That may not have constituted a question for the Speaker. Perhaps it instead qualified as a “Special Order,” speeches House members make on the floor at the end of the day on various and sundry topics.
The children fidgeted. Played with their hair. Sucked thumbs. Some wailed for their mommy. But the questions continued.
What’s harder, being Speaker of the House or a mother? How did the speaker get her job (Pelosi responded there were “two versions of this story.”)? As a Baltimore native, did she prefer the Baltimore Orioles or her current hometown team, the San Francisco Giants? And then this stumper from a boy named Carlos.
“How do people earn the money?” Carlos queried.
"What money, dear?" Pelosi responded.
It’s unclear if Carlos was asking about executives collecting bonuses at AIG.
The question that drew the most howls came from the sixth-grade son of Lisa Lyons Wright, press secretary for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD).
“My name is J.C. Wright,” he announced confidently. “Why did you join them and not us? By ‘them’ I mean the Democrats. And by ‘us,’ I mean the Republicans.”
The room exploded in laughter.
Standing just a few steps behind me, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill asked your Fair and Balanced FOX News reporter if that was my son.
“That’s an interesting characterization. What news organization are you associated with?” Pelosi responded.
Citing her political lineage of a father who served in Congress and was mayor of Baltimore, the Speaker indicated was “born in the Democratic party.” But she told J.C. she was “delighted” that he associates himself with a political party. And in what must have shocked John Boehner, the Democratic Speaker added that “it is important for us to have a strong Republican party.”
The “advanced interrogation methods” continued for 20 minutes. But a moment that tested the limits of the “Cute-o-meter” came when three-year-old Charlie Wooters (son to Pelosi aide Stacy Kerr) offered this non-sequitur.
“Why do you have chocolate? because you have flags?” Charlie asked of Madam Speaker.
Certainly Charlie’s interrogatory ranks up there with some of the great metaphysical questions of our time. Kind of like Pink Floyd’s “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” on Another Brick in the Wall.
Like an observant reporter, Charlie was merely noting the phalanx of American flags situated behind the speaker and a tray of chocolate “coins” resting near her feet. Gold tinfoil encased the chocolates, each embossed with Speaker’s seal on the side.
Still, Pelosi fielded Charlie’s inquiry in stride.
“Chocolate and flags, what could be more natural?” said the Speaker.
But Pelosi’s been around kids for more than 40 years. She knew this was code for something else.
“I think Charlie is hinting that it is time to give out the candy,” she added.
In this case, no “advanced interrogation method” was necessary. Charlie simply used a direct and time-honored ploy to coax a mother and a grandmother to hand out the goodies to the children she adores.
- Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He’s won an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.