“Members will not be allowed to reserve seats prior to the joint session by placement of placards or personal items. Chamber Security may remove these items from the seats,” said a note sent out Monday by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the majority whip. “Members may reserve their seats only by physical presence.”
The key is the wait. Members of Congress, as a class, don’t wait for much of anything. Not meetings. Not elevators. Not seats on a flight. On Capitol Hill, they ride in a special subway to an office building less than three blocks away.
In this crowd, the aisle-seat squatters distinguish themselves by a simple tolerance for sitting still.
“It’s been earlier and earlier, you know, as the years go by, because other people have caught on. Now it’s about 10 or 12 hours earlier,” said Engel, a congressman who might be best known for his years of presidential handshakes. He was so grateful to the legislator who introduced him to the aisle, former representative Gillespie “Sonny” Montgomery (D), that he traveled to Meridian, Miss., to attend Montgomery’s funeral in 2006.
Then, finally, the president. You had better have something rehearsed.
It could be a concern from folks back home. A joke from the campaign trail. (Butterfield and Obama talk about the time they were shaking hands at the same event and a voter with long fingernails somehow cut Butterfield deep enough to require a medic.) Or something totally unexpected.
“Mr. President, I wish you peace,” said then-Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) when Bush walked by at the height of the Iraq war. Kucinich was a bitter critic of the war and of Bush. But he wanted Bush to know he understood the personal toll the conflict must have been taking.
“ ‘Dennis,’ he said, ‘I really appreciate that,’ ” Kucinich recalled. “He said, ‘I know you mean that.’ ”
This year, the ranks of the old-time squatters will be thinner. While stalwarts such as Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) and Al Green (D-Tex.) remain, Kucinich and former representative Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), one of the few Republicans on the aisle, both lost races last year. Kildee retired after 36 years in Congress.
“I’ll probably watch it on TV,” Kildee said. “I’ll see how I kind of looked,” he said, for all those years.
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.