The Speaker's Lobby: Takeout Menu
By: Chad Pergram, FOX News
16 April 2009
"It smells like a restaurant in here," declared Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) as he entered the Speaker's Lobby behind the House chamber around 6:45 on a Monday evening.
Sure enough, it did. For Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) was at it again.
Just as the bells rang in the House signaling the votes, Gohmert walked downstairs from a meeting in the office of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) carrying a tin foil tray stocked with his famous, barbecue ribs. The smell trailed Gohmert as he deposited the tray on a table near the fireplace on the Democratic side of the Speaker's Lobby. An aide accompanying Gohmert dropped off a tall stack of white napkins and an industrial-sized roll of paper towels.
As the House voted, the aroma of Gohmert's ribs wafted out of the Speaker's Lobby and into the chamber. Lawmakers straggling over from the House office buildings to vote quickly grew more curious in tracing the source of the smell than with the series of votes on non-controversial suspension bills.
Votes at 6:30 on a Monday are also the perfect time to feed lawmakers. House votes are often delayed until 6:30 so lawmakers who live across the country can stay in their districts as long as they can during the day, then jet back to vote that night to Washington to start the Congressional work week. So, lawmakers often lumber into the Capitol, just off the airplane and hungry. They won't be able to grab dinner until at least 7:45 or 8, depending on how many votes the House has. So a snack on a couple of Gohmert's BBQ ribs in between votes hits the spot.
Rep. George Miller (D-CA) is one of the most-liberal members of the House. Gohmert is one of the most-conservative. But that didn't stop Miller from standing by the table and chomping through a few. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) shuttled away a handful on a makeshift plate made with napkins to a back table. Kind read the newspaper while he devoured the ribs.
"Don't let the secret out," Kind said to a few of his early-arriving colleagues who picked through the top layer of ribs in the tray.
But it was too late. Droves of lawmakers were already following their noses.
"That looks good," remarked Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) as he walked by.
"They're available?" asked Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).
On this particular night, Gohmert cooked up a batch of his ribs for a Republican dinner and brought down extras to serve to his colleagues. Gohmert's office is on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building. As most Congressional hands know, the fifth floor of Cannon is the Congressional equivalent of Siberia. It's usually reserved for junior lawmakers, not third-termers like Gohmert (the offices are cramped and not all elevators in Cannon run to the fifth floor). But the fifth floor does offer one amenity not available to all offices: a tiny, exterior balcony.
It's on that balcony where Gohmert keeps a charcoal grill and barbeques his ribs. Gohmert is said to use LBJ's dry rub recipe to prep the ribs.
"He may know what he's doing!" remarked Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) as he gripped a rib with two hands.
"Does he know what he's doing on anything else?" someone called from across the room.
"It doesn't matter. It....does...not...matter," answered Clay, his mouth full, enunciating each word in between chews.
When the Democrats came to power a few years ago, they banned smoking in the Speaker's Lobby. One of the main opponents of lighting up in the Lobby was Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). In fact Waxman just helped pass a bill that would require the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.
So when Waxman came by, I jokingly asked the health-conscious Democrat if they should prohibit Gohmert's ribs in the Speaker's Lobby, too.
"The difference is, you don't have to eat it," said Waxman, indicating that you couldn't escape the nebula of cigarette smoke that used to hang in the Speaker's Lobby.
"But (the ribs) do smell good, unlike the tobacco smoke," Waxman said with a smile.
What's interesting is that Gohmert is nowhere to be found when he serves up the ribs. And he declined to be interviewed for this story.
However, Gohmert's office did offer this written statement from the Texas Republican.
"It means a great deal that so many friends on both sides of the aisle love the ribs," Gohmert said. "Who knows. Maybe some day we can get a bipartisan majority to sit down over ribs and solve some of the great Congressional dilemmas."
Furthermore in his statement, Gohmert openly hinted that perhaps some of the lawmakers were taking advantage of him. After all, he's the one slaving away over the grill on the Cannon balcony. Gohmert suggested that perhaps other lawmakers should periodically cook for their colleagues like he does.
"It is possible they learned what my older sister did many years ago," Gohmert wrote. "If you just tell me what I cooked is wonderful, I keep cooking and you don't have to."
Which is rarely a problem on Capitol Hill. There are 535 House and Senate members. Each competing against the other for attention on their bill, their amendment. Every lawmaker has a different take on what should happen to AIG. Or what Pentagon programs should be cut. Or what's the best approach to secure the border.
Lawmakers often complain that when it comes to legislation, there are "too many cooks in the kitchen."
And it's possible Gohmert is the first to lament, that in this case, there aren't enough.
- Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He's won an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.