As new congressman, Bartlett feels his way around corridors of power

April 12, 1993|By Jim Payne | Jim Payne,Capital News Service

The porch door swings opens at 6:25 a.m. and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett jogs down the steps into the rainy, fog-shrouded dawn. He slides into the passenger side of his aide's Ford Taurus and they begin the 54-mile commute to the nation's capital.

Already 10 minutes behind schedule, Tim Woodford, Mr. Bartlett's administrative assistant, drives away from the 144-acre Bartlett estate onto the back roads of Frederick County.

Mr. Bartlett thumbs through the stack of morning papers in the back seat. He reads the editorial pages first.

The two men discuss the day's hot topics -- military base closings, a Howard County highway project, Iran, the Blizzard of '93, the abortion pill and a toy safety labeling bill.

Eventually, Mr. Woodford slips into the congressman's parking space beneath the Cannon House Office Building.

They hop out of the car and duck down a dark hallway in the labyrinth of underground tunnels that traverse Capitol Hill.

The tunnel opens to the basement of the Longworth building. They pop into the cafeteria, where Mr. Bartlett picks up breakfast -- french toast with maple syrup and a glass of ice water. At a corner table, he is greeted by two police officers. The meeting is the first of many for Mr. Bartlett today. Everybody wants a piece of him, and he does his best to accommodate them.

Sgt. John A. Gott, president of the U.S. Capitol Police Officers Association, and the other officer press the congressman to support Capitol employees. In return, they'd support a bill Mr. Bartlett has co-sponsored that would prevent legislators from exempting themselves from the laws they pass.

Mr. Bartlett's eyes brighten at the thought of 2,500 Capitol employees behind his bill.

Scooping up the last of the syrup with a fork, Mr. Bartlett makes his play to solidify the support. He leans in toward Sergeant Gott, suggests a petition among Capitol employees in favor of his bill and promises another meeting soon.

Mr. Woodford signals him with a glance, and the two men slip back into the tunnel to a subway. At the Capitol, Mr. Woodford stops to ask directions twice.

They make a "stop by" at a breakfast meeting put on by the Maryland Independent Insurance Agents for members of the state's congressional delegation.

When Mr. Bartlett shows up at 8:45 a.m., he is the only politician in sight.

"Stop bys" -- quick appearances -- are an integral part of the congressman's day. They are the only way he can come close to satisfying the enormous number of requests for his time.

"I never believed I would have to be in three places at one time," Mr. Bartlett says. "But that's the way it works here. I'd say three-quarters of the time we get no dinner up here. Mostly it's finger food and snacks we get at these meetings."

This morning, the sausages and scrambled eggs grow cold as Mr. Bartlett chats with his hosts. He gives them 12 minutes, and, since he's the only member to show up this morning, they lavish him with attention.

The next stop is a GOP strategy session in the House chamber. Afterward, Mr. Bartlett walks through the winding tunnel to his office. At the end of the tunnel he pauses to choose from among three identical openings.

Shaking his head, he murmurs, "I still get lost around here."

Making his choice, he strides past a bank of elevators to a large xTC marble stairwell. Taking hold of the brass handrail, the 66-year-old runs up the steps two at a time to his third-floor office. It's 10:23 a.m.

The high-backed, black leather chair behind his desk will go mostly unused today as Mr. Bartlett runs from meeting to meeting. The pale blue room is lighted only by a large window behind his desk.

"It's one of only five offices held by freshmen that have a window," he brags. It's a prize won in the freshman office lottery.

On a credenza below the window is a photo of the congressman, his wife, Ellen, and their 10 children. He has difficulty remembering the order of their births.

Ten minutes go by before a beeper buzzes beneath his charcoal pinstripe suit jacket, summoning him to a vote on the House floor.

"What this vote does is let them know you're here," he scoffs.

After the vote, Mr. Bartlett stops at a news conference to back fellow Republican Newt Gingrich as the GOP whip takes shots at the president's tax plan. On the way, Mr. Bartlett stops outside the Republican cloakroom to point out a hidden, plain brass plaque on which he had penciled his initials next to those of other lawmakers and, according to Hill folklore, poet Walt Whitman.

Mr. Bartlett arrives back at his office five minutes before his next appointment. He hurries to ready the room, pushing chairs into a circle. He wants to appear accessible, and meeting guests from behind a large desk is not the way to do it.

Members of the Council for American Private Education are ushered into the office. Mr. Bartlett tells them he would like to see teachers' pay doubled, but declines to support a program that would increase federal funding for private education.

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