By Chad Pergram, ,
Published May 18, 2015
When I first moved to Washington, I quickly learned the importance of easy ingress and egress for lawmakers to Reagan National Airport across the river in Virginia.
One senator proposed taking away dedicated parking spaces for lawmakers at the airport. That prompted an explosion on the Senate floor from former Republican Missouri Sen. John Danforth.
"How do you expect us to get there?" Danforth thundered. "Get shot out there in a pneumatic tube?"
It's long been said that the most dangerous place in Washington is between a TV camera and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
That assertion is way wrong.
Truly, the most dangerous place in Washington is between members of Congress and their rides to the airport.
There's no telling what Congress could accomplish if lawmakers demonstrated the same determination at crafting bipartisan compromise as they do when escaping the Capitol.
See, lawmakers don't like to spend any more time in Washington than they have to. They can attend one more dinner on the rubber chicken circuit back in their district. Or maybe finally spend some family time with their spouse.
The weekly Congressional mass exit reminds me of preschool. Right down to the way Congressional aides pick up their bosses outside the Capitol to whisk them to the airport following the final vote of the week.
They conduct this amusing exercise on the tarmac outside the Capitol by the House steps. It's great entertainment as lawmakers sprint out of the building to scan the rows of cars.
If they call the final vote of the week by midafternoon on a Thursday or Friday, Katie bar the door. Rushed members of Congress would crush even all-pro NFL linebackers if they got between them and their lift.
Most votes in the House come in a wave. So staff or lawmakers themselves pre-emptively steer their cars into the tiny lot by the Capitol and jockey for spaces before they begin to vote. Cars are wedged in everywhere at all angles. And it's arranged with the organization of the bumper cars at the county fair.
They even drag over a couple of attendants from the House parking office to help direct traffic.
The members go in to vote. But as soon as they register their final yea or nay of the week, they fly out the door.
It never occurred to me that I would someday mistake Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., for Olympic 100-meter gold medalist Usain Bolt.
And I swear one member moved so fast once I actually heard a sonic boom erupt above the Capitol.
"Yo, I'm with you!" hollers Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., once she spots her aide and vehicle.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., boards a Coupe de Ville.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., takes off in a Chrysler LeBaron convertible. He keeps the top down if the weather's nice.
Embattled Rep. Vito Fossella of New York drives off in a Honda Civic. With a luggage rack. Upon seeing this one afternoon, a Democrat wondered aloud if it was to carry all of Fossella's "baggage."
And for the record, the car matches the description of the vehicle Alexandria, Va., Police say he was driving when they arrested the Staten Island Republican for drunken driving in May.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., climbs into a Toyota 4Runner with Arkansas tags and featuring an Oklahoma State University sticker. Explain that incongruous combo.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., drives away in a Volkswagen Cabrio.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., gets into an Oldsmobile Olero. He's a big New York Mets fan. It frankly surprised me they didn't pick him up in one of those golf carts with a Mets cap on top. That's what they used to use at Shea Stadium to drive in relief pitchers from the bullpen.
But not all the lawmakers' rides are there when they want them.
So they stand pensively on steps, confused where their car is. Maybe the aide is running late. They walk up and down in between the cars, searching for the right one. Others jump immediately on their cell phones and bark at staff to get the car over to the Capitol post-haste. The plane leaves in 45 minutes.
They panic if their car doesn't arrive soon.
This is no different than the Kiss and Ride line at preschool.
When I was four-years-old, I attended a Montessori preschool run by Adrienne Bauer. Her husband was a local business executive. and they lived in a mansion on a hillside.
Mrs. Bauer dedicated half of the house to serve as the school. The lane that crawled up to her home wound around to a carport attached to her house.
Mrs. Bauer wanted students to learn their parents' cars. But also their shapes and colors. So she assigned each student a color and a shape. She then made colored, cardboard cut-outs of each and asked every parent to place the shape on their dashboard. That way they could identify which car had arrived to pick up which student.
For instance, my good friend David Edwards was an orange triangle. Mary Ann Schneider was a blue circle. And Chad Pergram was a brown square (which may be emblematic of something).
At the end of the day, Mrs. Bauer would herd the class over to this bay window where we'd keep watch for our shapes and colors. And we got to learn the make of different automobiles, too.
So I'd look at the wood-paneled Ford station wagons come and go. Waiting. To spy the brown square on the dashboard of my parents' Volkswagen.
It occurred to me one day that the House might impose a similar system to make it easier for lawmakers to find their cars.
First, a color-coded scheme would be a cinch. Red for Republicans. Blue for Democrats. And rather than designating the cars by shape, they could arrange the cars by earmarks. Can you imagine Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, with a cardboard cut-out of the Bridge to Nowhere?
Other icons might work, too. Perhaps a harmonica for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey, D-Wis. He plays harmonica on the side.
An amended tax return might work for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.
A cigarette lighter could be fitting for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, one of the biggest smokers in Congress.
Yes. It's a lot like preschool. And maybe they could hand out juice boxes to lawmakers whose rides are tardy.
Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He's earned an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.