The blue-jacketed pages were familiar extras in the Capitol’s dramas: In the early days, they tended fireplaces and delivered cocktails to members working late. More recently, they distributed drafts of thick legislation or passed notes to members on the House floor.
But now, documents move as attachments. Notes buzz on iPhones. So leaders decided that the pages were “no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House.”
“After careful consideration,” Boehner and Pelosi wrote to members, “we have determined that the Page Program should be terminated at the conclusion of the current summer term.”
The Senate will continue to use pages. But the House program — which had been tarnished by two sex scandals in recent decades — was still mourned by Capitol old-timers, who said it brought earnestness and young people into a place with a permanent shortage of both.
“What? What . . . are they doing?” said Raymond W. Smock, a former House historian who is director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University in West Virginia. “This is a diminishing of the kind of institutional glue that makes it possible for that place to be civil.
“If you have to be civil to the pages and if you have to treat them decently,” then members feel more inclined to be civil to each other, Smock added.
The House’s last class of pages finished their work Friday. This summer, as usual, their days began about 7 a.m., in classrooms in the attic of a Library of Congress building. After two hours of school, they walked through a tunnel into the Capitol, dropped bags off in a room called “the page cage” and waited for orders from the House floor.
Summer page Eyvana Bengochea, 17, of Coral Gables, Fla., said her duties could include taking copies of a lawmaker’s speech to be inserted in the Congressional Record. Sometimes, that involved chasing down a lawmaker who left in a hurry. Other pages rang the bells that signal members that the House is voting.
One recurrent conflict, Bengochea said, came when the House stayed into the evening to work on the debt-ceiling crisis.
“Everyone wanted to work late,” she said, so the pages would compete to be on the late-night crews. Her favorite moment came Aug. 1, when the House voted to approve a debt-ceiling agreement and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) made a surprise return six months after a devastating gunshot wound.
Afterward, Bengochea said, many summer pages inquired about coming back for another semester. No one gave any indication that the program was about to end.