The Speaker's Lobby: Grandmother of our Country

By: Chad Pergram, FOX News

22 April 2010

If George Washington is the "Father of our Country," then surely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the "Grandmother of our Country."

Grandmother of eight, mother of five, Pelosi's dual role as legislative leader and doting den mother was never more evident than Thursday morning in the Capitol. It was "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day." It's a tradition where Congressional aides and reporters bring their children to sit on the floor in front of the speaker and pepper her with questions. And Pelosi reveled in what has become an annual rite of her speakership as she presides over the tots like they're attending library hour.

The kids sat cross-legged on the carpet of the Rayburn Room. Some clutched rectangular "reporter's notebooks" and fiddled with their ballpoint pens as they waited for the speaker.

"You have to be really good while you're sitting there," admonished a mother of two daughters who were plopped down near the front. "No touching each other."

If only someone had given former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) that advice when he came to Congress.

"Act like you're happy," suggested another parent. "You're not at school today. You ought to be happy."

Perhaps the tykes just read some bad poll numbers or got a primary challenge.

A few minutes later, the speaker arrived in a violet pantsuit and greeted the junior throng.

"This is a very special day to us. We have some very important guests, our VIP's sitting right here in the front," said Pelosi.

The California Democrat then took a moment to praise the media and stress to the children the importance of independent journalists in a democracy.

"So sometimes when your mom and dad are not home in time for dinner or can't be there for one occasion or another, know how important the work is they are doing and how much we in Congress respect what they do."

Yeah, tell that to all of the lawmakers who regularly beat up the press. And a lot of those dinners that were missed because mom and dad were staking out the Speaker's Office as Pelosi and the Democratic braintrust negotiated the final version of the health care bill.

Pelosi first took questions from the adults. Although some might question who those "adults" might be in the Congressional press corps. The reporters' queries ranged from financial regulatory reform to immigration to an investigation by House Ethics Committee regarding Massa. And then the speaker opened up the session to the kids.

"Now come the really tough questions," she said.

At that point, Pelosi's aide Crystal Chiu brought over a basket of Hershey's Kisses. But these weren't the regular Kisses, sealed in silver foil. These Kisses were made from dark chocolate. Presumably healthier. So they were encased in purple foil. Which incidentally nearly matched the speaker's outfit.

If all politics is local, it's unclear why the speaker doled out a product from Pennsylvania-based Hershey rather than Ghirardelli Chocolate, based in her hometown of San Francisco.

Regardless, one wonders if Pelosi might consider handing out chocolate to reporters before her weekly rap sessions with the press. Just a thought. But a little chocolate beforehand might make the scribes go a little easier on her.

Then the children's questions came. Can we stop pollution? Where do you live? When you were a kid, did you want to be Speaker of the House? What do you plan on doing for Earth Day? Would you ever run for president since you have so much experience?

But there were some doozies, too.

"Does it bother you that so many people don't like politics?" asked one child.

The crowd howled.

Pelosi then said that she brought her grandchildren to the Capitol on the day the House approved the health care bill. Her grandchildren call her "Mimi." And she also has a daughter named Nancy. So her grandchildren call her daughter "Nancy."

"These people were shouting 'Nancy' this and 'Nancy' that. And my grandson, who is three said 'Why are those people all mad at Aunt Nancy?'" Pelosi said. "They did seem to be angry."

Another child fired in another zinger a few minutes later.

"Why are there so many problems with the government?" she asked.

It's unclear if the child was a member of the tea party.

"I think I'm getting the tenor of the dinner table conversation at home," Pelosi responded with a smile. "I guess this is not an appropriate time to talk about the previous administration."

But the speaker did make some news during the Romper Room portion of the Q and A.

A teenage girl asked Pelosi what kinds of tough decisions she has to make.

"The most difficult job I have had in this past year is to get my Members to vote for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," the speaker said. "We are going to be having that vote again soon. It is a difficult vote."

Pelosi is referring to is a supplemental spending bill to pay for military operations in both theatres. The legislation will be controversial because many House liberals don't want to spend another dime on either conflict. Still, the reality is that troops remain on the ground in both places. And many in Congress believe there is still much work to be done in Afghanistan. It will be hard for the speaker to cobble together the votes to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan operations, yet give political cover to those who are opposed.

But Pelosi's been down this road before. She passed the climate change bill last summer when people abandoned the measure for legislative road kill. She pulled the health care reform bill out of a hat when commentators didn't give it a snowball's chance after the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA).

But that's what powerful political leaders do. They cajole. They horse trade. They implore. And like grandmothers, they hand out chocolate. The chocolate helps calm skittish members about voting for a controversial bill. Or lawmakers know their Congressional grandmother will reward them with political chocolate if they're on their best behavior and does what she says.

A few minutes after the press conference, Pelosi lined up the kids and trooped them to the House floor for a tour. After that stop, the speaker paraded the kids through the corridors for a trip to the Speaker's Balcony, a vista from her ornate office that looks down the National Mall, past the Washington Monument and to the Lincoln Memorial.

The kids dutifully followed grandmother.

After all, as grandmothers do, she had just given them chocolate.

-          Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He's earned an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.

-          The Speaker's Lobby refers to a long, ornate hallway that runs behind the dais in the House chamber. Lawmakers, aides and journalists often confer there during votes.