Capitol Buzz: Finger Food, Pelosi Vote, Her Grandkids

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Nancy Pelosi, set to become House speaker for a second time. Courtesy Office of the Speaker.

Watch What You Eat (and Drink)

One of the perks for hardworking Capitol Hill staffers — who often work 10 hours a day or more for minimum pay (or for free, in the case of some interns) — is to be invited to accompany or even represent their congressional member or committee chairman at a fancy reception hosted by some of the thousands of lobbyists who work the Hill. That includes elegant receptions in private homes and hotels in Georgetown. The Christmas holidays can be exceedingly rich with such invitations. But they have to be careful what they eat, how much and even the size of the event. Strict congressional ethics rules are in effect. A member and his or her staff could be in trouble if they eat a full pizza or attend an event with fewer than 25 people.

It’s called the “toothpick rule.” Since the mid-1990s, congressional rules prohibit lobbying of members and their staffs via expensive gifts, trips and intimate, pricey meals. But a reception of more than 25 people is okay if the food served can be eaten with a toothpick. Slices of pizza are out, but large shrimps, stuffed mushrooms and dipped finger food are in. One conundrum: caviar! (Too small for a toothpick. Must be confined to a small scoop on a tiny cracker.) Georgetown hostesses have to be aware that if they want members of Congress and their staffs to attend their dos, they must not put them in legal food jeopardy. For the staffer, if there is more than one congressional member or worker (that’s them) at the event, it is considered by the Congressional Office of Compliance to be a work event and falls under the rules. The hazard is that any overeating — or, especially, overdrinking (with consequent loose lips) — can get back to the Hill.

Pelosi’s Election to Speaker: Still A Squeaker

Georgetowner Nancy Pelosi still faces a narrow two-vote margin to be elected speaker of the House on Jan. 3 when the 116th Congress convenes. She was elected easily by the Democratic Caucus on Nov. 28, but she still faces the full vote of the new Congress in order to be official. She must win 218 votes. The Democratic majority, as of Dec. 10, appears to have 235 members (a couple of midterm elections are as yet unconfirmed). However, it is fairly certain that 15 of those Democrats will vote for someone else — thus the two-vote margin.

By law, a new Congress begins at noon on Jan. 3 of each odd-numbered year following a general election, unless the previous House of Representatives designates a different day by law. In 2019, Congress will open at noon on Thursday, Jan. 3. The first order of business will be the nomination and then election of the new Speaker of the House. It could be extraordinarily close this year, although experts say there is little chance that the current Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) could be elected; Republicans only have 200 representatives elected to the 116th Congress. At this time, the Democrats have no other serious contender for the office. Pelosi, who was elected to an 18th term, is the only female to have been elected House Speaker. She first served from 2007 to 2011.

Grandkids Will Make Official Swearing-In Fun

The fun time on the floor comes after the speaker’s election. That is when all the representatives of the new 116th Congress take the oath of office en masse, conducted by the newly elected speaker. Traditionally, many members bring their children and grandchildren onto the floor for the ceremony. Nancy Pelosi, 78, who is expected to be elected speaker of the House for a historic second time, and her husband Paul — a successful investment company owner in San Francisco — together have eight grandchildren. Many of them crowded around their grandmother when she was sworn in as minority leader in 2016. Meg Greenfield, the renowned former columnist for the Washington Post, once wrote that all members of Congress, no matter what party they belong to, have one inalienable soft and vulnerable spot: their grandchildren. You will see that love and patience displayed on the floor on Jan. 3.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Great article, getting ethics right for young professionals as well as the old farts is important. Too much temptation with all the power on Capital Hill.

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