Congress? More Like Animal House

House Majority Leader Vernon "Dean" Wormer's (R-N.H.) carefully choreographed move early Tuesday to put all 21 resident members of the House of Representatives on  "double-secret probation" for a series of recent pranks and poor performance came as no surprise to many of those lawmakers most likely to be directly affected by its scope. Based upon interviews with those directly involved in the roiling scandal, as well as other legislative sources who refused to be identified for fear of cafeterial retribution, the Atlantic.com has pieced together this first-person account of what happened on Capitol Hill as word spread around the halls of Congress of restrictions and possible eviction -- and of a legislative probation that clearly is "double-secret" no more.
     
According to official descriptions of video surveillance tapes, the final straw occurred late Monday night when House Resident Assistant Chip Diller and his staff of security guards caught Rep. Eric Stratton (D-Ohio) and Rep. Donald Schoenstein (R-Ind.) trying to sneak two female staffers into their Congressional offices, which also have been serving as the lawmakers' living quarters since the start of the 112th Congress. "I tell you these crazy boys will try anything," said Babs Jansen, the House Superintendent and former speechwriter for Sarah Palin. "Last week, Rep. John Blutarski (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Daniel Simpson Day (R-Ill.) tried to hide themselves and their kegs under the covers during a fire alarm. But we caught them and sent them outside with everyone else."
 
After the two staffers were released to leave Capitol Hill, sources say that Reps. Stratton and Schoenstein were then escorted by Dillon and his security guards to Majority Leader Wormer's office where they were told of his plan to propose and endorse a house resolution -- House Resolution 7, as it is now known -- creating onerous (and some say untenable) conditions of probation for the 21 members who now call the Congress their home. According to two sources who were inside the room, Rep. Wormer (R-Tex.) told the pair: "The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me." The resultant resolution passed 414-21 with bipartisan support following an extraordinary early-morning voting session that surprised even long-time Washington insiders.
 
Rep. Doug Neidermeyer (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Gregg Marmalard (R- Pa.), whose public complaints about rowdy nighttime behavior and sophomoric conduct -- last week's epic food fight at the Rayburn House Office Building cafeteria, for example -- are said to have finally spurred the Majority Leader to action, refused public comment. An unidentified federal source close to the pair said, however, that they were "delighted" and "cautiously optimistic" that residential House members would be unable to meet the probationary terms and would soon have to leave. Others echoed the sentiment. "United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia goes up there to talk about the Constitution and what do they do? They ask him for 10,000 marbles. I've never seen him speechless. You just watch, it won't be long until they get nabbed," a Capitol Hill staffer said Wednesday on condition of being given a free cup of coffee.
 
For some resident House members, the double-secret probation resolution wasn't merely expected, it was predicted. The two most junior members of the House, Rep. Lawrence Kroger (D-Nev.) and Rep. Kent Dorfman (R-S.C.), were reportedly sitting on the floor of Kroger's House office eating Doritos and playing Madden 2011 on X-Box when they heard about the early-morning quorum call. They both said they were not surprised by the development. Interviewed later inside his own dimly-lit office, which was plastered with posters of Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Dorfman said: "Look, I know that fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through the Congress. But hundreds of politicians have done it before." Last week, he said in illustrating the point, the Capitol Hill Police found a dead white horse in Rep. Mandy Pepperidge's (D-Wis.) office.  
 
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, reaction to House Resolution No. 7 was mixed. Rep. Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino (D-Va.) and Rep. Paul Delvecchio (R-Wis.) were trying to get in some late-night weight-lifting in the Capitol Hill gym when they were informed about the measure. "GTL, that's what it's all about," said Rep. Sorrentino, of the Judiciary Committee, referring to his pet provision in the new Patriot Act that would require local law enforcement officials to keep year-around tans. He was spotting on weights for Rep. Delvecchio, the affable freshman legislator whose dogged work on the House Homeland Security Committee has earned him the nickname 'Paulie D.S.A.' Why should we ever have to leave the building," Delvecchio said, "now that the House Appropriations Committee has authorized tanning beds, a nightclub, and a 24-hour 7-Eleven here?"
 
Rep. Felix Unger (R-Okla.), who has in just a few weeks generated a reputation around the House for his allergies and fastidiousness, was more or less amused by the possibility of House members losing their residency status. Interviewed while he was vacuuming Rep. Barney Frank's (D-Mass.) tie, Rep. Unger said: "Some of these guys just reek. It's filthy. I mean, you walk into Rep. Oscar Madison's (D-Ohio) office for a meeting on the budget deficit and it just smells of Cheetos and stale beer. It's hard to concentrate on the looming deficit ceiling cap when you are wondering what is moving in that old pizza box in the corner of the room. That bothers me more than the noise and the parties and the pranks."
 
Before the current crisis, Reps. Neidermeyer and Marmalard were perhaps best known on Capitol Hill for for their aborted attempt to suspend House living privileges for Rep. Joey Tribbiani (R-Ohio), Rep. Ross Geller (R-New York) and Rep. Chandler Bing (R-Mich.) due to "incessant, self-absorbed blather. They took 'friends across the aisle' to mean a whole lot more than it should." The episode reportedly did not endear them to many other members of the House and it is unclear whether they attended, or were even invited to the early-morning conference hosted on February 7th by Rep. Robert Hoover (R-New York), who called together many of his fellow House residents to discuss the destructive internecine political sparring which had come to characterize the 112th Congress.
 
"Look, we know we're on double-secret probation, whatever that is," Hoover said to the assembled gathering, according to three sources who spoke on condition of anonymity but all at the same time. "We know that if we don't turn things around they are going to kick us out of the House as quickly as we got here. The question is: what do we do now?"  Rep. Blutarski, hastily summoned to the meeting from Dean Wormer's office, immediately suggested that instead of having a "Tea Party" his fellow residential members should host a massive, unbridled "Toga Party," at which point, according to two sources who were present in the room, Rep. Stork, who remains the only member in the long history of the House to have no first name, reportedly began shouting: "To-ga! To-ga!" Rep. Bachmann refused comment.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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