Capitol Buzz: Lots of Goodbyes

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The U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where the remains of former President George H.W. Bush will lie in state from the evening of Dec. 3 to the morning of Dec. 5. Courtesy Architect of the Capitol.

George H.W. Bush to Lie in State

The news of the death of 94-year-old President George H.W. Bush on Friday night, Nov. 30 — less than a year after the death of his wife of 73 years, first lady Barbara Bush — while not unexpected, still sent a tremor through Capitol Hill. It seems that everyone who has been involved with the Hill for at least 10 years had met and had a personal experience with the 41st president and his family, almost always a positive one.

In the pre-tweet era, Bush was known for hand-writing dozens of short but personal, usually congratulatory, notes almost every day to friends and acquaintances in the news or experiencing pivotal anniversaries. Hundreds of Georgetowners have received and sometimes framed those special notes. Many knew the Bushes as neighbors while he was head of the CIA and lived in the Palisades. He is one of the presidents known to have dined at Martin’s Tavern.

Over the weekend and today, the Capitol Rotunda was prepared for the arrival of the presidential casket: floors were buffed and waxed, stone entrances to the U.S. Capitol were power-washed and lighting and sound systems were checked, according to the agency known as the Architect of the Capitol. Ceremonial stanchions, chairs, a podium and risers for the media were set in place for the greeting ceremony by the congressional leadership today, Dec. 3, around 5 p.m.

Bush’s casket will most likely be supported on the historic “Lincoln catafalque”: a simple platform of rough pine boards constructed in 1865 to support the casket of Abraham Lincoln. It measures 7-feet-1-inch long, 2-feet-6-inches wide and 2-feet high. The catafalque’s black cloth covering has been replaced several times, but the style of the drapery is similar to that used in 1865.

The Capitol will be open to the public from 7:30 p.m. tonight until 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 5. Visitors enter through the Capitol Visitor Center, with lines forming on closed-to-traffic 1st Street between Constitution and Independence Avenues and on 2nd Street between East Capitol Street and Independence Avenue. No electronic devices can be used in the Rotunda. Other streets off the Capitol grounds may be closed as necessary.

Reps and Senators Moving In and Moving Out

This week, the halls of the House and Senate office buildings on the south and north sides of the Capitol are filled with office furniture as 110 new U.S. representatives and senators vie for emptied offices (after scores of second-plus-termers grab the best first). Last Friday morning, Nov. 30, congressional reps and selected staff members, wielding good-luck tokens and performing good-luck dances or poems, drew numbers to determine the order of the pick during the biannual rite of the congressional office lottery.

Then it was off to scour the emptying offices, ranking them according to such priorities as views, square footage and proximity to committee rooms, the cafeteria and routes to the Capitol. Once secured, the new officeholders (in both senses) get to choose décor from a preselected menu including paint color, furniture style and even some interior wall construction. All this while hiring new staffers, who also must take time to find apartments and rooms in the District. Staff lodgings, frequently turned over, in Georgetown are particularly coveted.

Meanwhile, the reps who are leaving have been relegated to a desk and two chairs each in a Capitol basement room to finish their terms.

Leaving the Hill (and Georgetown), Only to Tell All

Working on the Hill and living in D.C. neighborhoods like Georgetown makes for a life-defining time. Many now-former congressional staffers and journalists (and even a president) can’t let go just yet, it seems. Some have written revealing and enlightening books — novels and memoirs — about their just-completed, often exhilarating and exasperating daily life on the Hill and, in some cases, in Georgetown.

As fun holiday and vacation reading for those who love stories about D.C.’s political class, here are a few of the latest tell-all novels and memoirs about life on the Hill. These selections are not heavy on partisan politics, instead revealing the conflicts and emotions of winning and losing in Congress and in the White House: “From the Corner of the Oval” by Beck Dorey-Stein; “Campaign Widows” by Aimee Agresti; The President Is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson; “K Street Killing” and “Calamity at the Continental Club” by Colleen Shogan (to add to her “Washington Whodunit” series that also includes “Stabbing in the Senate” and “Homicide in the House”); plus the best (and funny) journalist’s reveal of covering Congress, the 2013 book “The List” by former Politico journalist Karin Tanabe.

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