In his first month as an elected official, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) has broken tradition by tramping across Capitol Hill's frozen turf, seeking advice from his Virginia colleagues in the House, including Northern Virginia's two liberal Democratic representatives.
"I have very little interest in protocol," the pipe-puffing warner said, explaining that the best way for him to get up to speed on legislation affecting Virginia is to talk to the state's 10 member House delegation.
"We've got gig problems in the state, and metropolitan area, so I can't let any upper house-lower house tradition stand in the way of my getting involved."
Warner's initiative resulted in a joint announcement being issued today that he and Rep. Herbert E. Harris II (D-Va.) "are joining forces to marshal bipartisan support in Congress for full funding of the federal impact aid education program."
Harris convinced Warner to lead the fight in the Senate in behalf of the controversial program during an hour-long meeting with the senator in Harris' office in the Longworth Building two weeks ago.
Warner not only agreed to support the program -- which was fought on the Senate floor last year by both his predecessor, William L. Scott, and the state's senior senator, Independent Harry F. Byrd Jr. -- but to send out a "Dear Colleague" letter to other senators, written by Harris' press secretary.
The joint announcement was just the first of a series of actions that could make Warner and Harris the odd couple of the 96th Congress.
Also on Harris' agenda when warner and the senator's top aides plopped down on the leather couch in the congressman's office were legislation concerning the financing of the Metro rail system, proposed expansion of the Manassas Rattlefield Park -- successfully blocked last year by Scott and byrd -- and federal funding of the controversial Upper Occoquan Sewer Authority.
Although Warner, a former Navy secretary hasn't decided his position on those issues, he is quick to admit that he knows more about SALT than sewers, and is grateful for the views of House members on such localized matters.
"It's an encouraging development," said Harris, who is clearly impressed and somewhat surprised with Warner's overture. Harris said Warner's visit was the first to his office by a senator in his four years in Congress.
Warner called Harris, and Rep. Joseph L. Fisher of Arlington, along with the eight conservative House members from Virginia, within 48 hours of his certification as winner in an exceedingly close November election. Warner told the representatives then he wanted to "work cooperatively on those things on which we could agree."
When Warner was sworn in on Jan. 2, Harris was a guest in the State Senate chamber in Richmomd, and Democratic Rep. David E. Satterfield III of Richmond led the ardience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Warner isn't worried that his cooperation whth Harris and other Democrats will be interpreted as a swing by him toward the liberal wing of the GOP. "I have a moral obligation to the people who got me here, who for the most part were moderates and conservatives," Warner said the other day, "and I expect an examination of my record at the end of six years will show that I'm still in the moderate-to-conservative area."
One conservative Virginia Republican who works on Capitol Hill, however, denigrated the Warner action as "act one of a play called "The New Linwood Holton, Consensus Liberal Republican.'"
Warner has generated freqent contact also with Byrd, whom he has known "reasonably well" for 10 years. It was Byrd who spoke in Warner's behalf at confirmation hearings for undersecretary and later Navy secretary in the Nixon administration, Warner said.
In his first month on the Hill, Warner has found the senate "an all-consuming environment." He is "amazed how some of the young guys have any time for their families," noting that "Jake Garn and (Lowell) Weicker are both expecting babies. My three children are grown and gone, and so are Elizabeth's."
No talk with or about Warner can go too long without a mention of his wife, ctress Elizabeth Taylor. (A reporter from Broadcast Magazine, interviewing Warner last Thursday about his assignment on a communications subcommittee, said apologetically, as he backed out the door, "My boss will kill me if I don't ask about... your wife.")
"Elizabeth's number one role is that of wife and homemaker," Warner responded with rehearsed ease. "Number two, I encourage her in her career, in which she has the luxury of stepping in and out of camep roles that can be done in 30 to 60 days.
"Third, she wants to be a typical Senate wife. She went to her first bandage rolling session, only to find that they don't roll bandages anymore," Warner said.
Because of their separate careers, the Warners don't find themselves together many evenings in their Georgetown home, "but we try to spend our weekends at the farm in Atoka," he said.
Warner's semi-celebrity status results in a flood of invitations to speak. And often, as with the call from ABC's Good Morning America the other day, the request includes a not-too-subtle suggestion that Mrs. Warner come along.
"I'm turning down out-of-state offers pretty much automatically," said Warner, to which his press secretary, Bill Kling, adds, "neither one of them needs the publicity."
He also said he will not accept honorariums although when he speaks to a political fund-raiser, as he will this week in Palm Beach, Fla., "I allow them to make a modest dent" in his $500,000 campaign debt. (He also has an expenses only speech to a real estate group in Reno during the Senate recess this week.)
"And I won't set any records" for foreign travel, said the successor to globe-trotting Scott, who hit 40 countries in a single term.
Most of his travel will be within Virginia, such as to Newport News next Sunday for a Boy Scout banquet ("even though it is my birthday") and maybe to Wytheville next month to accept a Jaycees award as man-of-the-year.
"She's a big state, that wonderful mistress of Virginia," Warner said, enjoying the hyperbole. "But I can't get to every corner of it the way Whitehurst, Trible, the Daniels and Wampler can," he said, reciting the names of much of the state's House delegation.
"That's why I'm going to look to them for direction," Warner said.Repeating the words of his inaugural address, he added, "I want to form a partnership for all Virginians."