Politico: Snow freezes legislative action

A winter that could turn out to be the snowiest in Washington history is having a serious impact on Capitol Hill, where the last legislative week before Congress's winter break could be lost as a second large snowstorm looms.

The House canceled votes for Tuesday. And even though the Senate, as of late Monday, planned to hold votes Tuesday, only three of the Senate's 100 lawmakers showed up at a brief session Monday after the weekend's 2-foot snowstorm forced lawmakers to scrap Monday votes. Among the votes that were canceled: a closely watched jobs bill.

Lawmakers are under increased pressure to return to Washington before next week's legislative recess begins over Presidents Day weekend, as further snow delays or cancellations could mean Congress would remain at a standstill for two straight weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and newly sworn-in Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) were the only members who attended the nonlegislative session Monday.

Reid spent the majority of his time addressing the strain that the weather has put on Congress, saying he'd spent a "beautiful weekend" back in Nevada, where the temperature was in the low 60s.

"But getting back here was another story. It was very, very difficult," Reid said. "But I'm here. A lot of senators simply have not been able to get here. The staff is under great duress to get here," Reid said.

Many lawmakers spent Monday home in their districts, with most expecting to fly into Washington Monday night or early Tuesday morning, staffers told POLITICO.

"Votes delayed till Tuesday in D.C. due to snowstorm. Good news is I can spend another day in Texas," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) cheered via his Twitter page.

Political experts warn that the erratic weather could have political implications in an election year when lawmakers are already scrambling to deal with a shortened legislative calendar.

"It will further push back a congressional schedule that is already running late," said Brookings Institution Governance Studies Director Darrell West. "Democrats wanted to strike fast on the jobs bill following President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. ... Democrats must be wondering what they can do to get a break amidst the lengthy health care bill consideration, Republican obstructionism, the Massachusetts Senate results and ‘Snowmageddon'" (a nickname for the weekend's big storm).

As of Monday afternoon, all three Washington-area airports - Dulles, Reagan National and Baltimore/Washington International - were operating but still dealing with delayed and canceled flights. And forecasters were warning of a new system that could bring double-digit snow accumulations to the already battered region.

Even if the new storm turns out to be a dud, members who do make it back to the District will still have to contend with traffic delays and a partially closed Metrorail system.

It was a balmy 58 degrees in Rep. Darrell Issa's hometown of San Diego this weekend. But like many of his colleagues who escaped the winter storm last week, the Republican may have to dig his car out of a drift before he can get to the Hill Tuesday.

"Who knows what condition his car is in, as it is parked at the airport," his spokesman said.

The Capitol was largely a ghost town Monday. The underground subways, members-only elevators and most of the shops and restaurants were closed. Trash cans sat unemptied, and unread newspapers were piled at closed office doors.

Three empty boxes of Papa John's pizza, discarded Friday, were still sitting outside the office of Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.).

Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) had an Indianapolis Colts flag on his locked office door.

Limited essential services staff, including some janitorial and heating staff, were working Monday, according to Architect of the Capitol spokeswoman Eva Malecki. The only schedule that remained uninterrupted was that of the Capitol Police, which booked hotel rooms for officers working over the weekend.

"We never close," said police spokeswoman Kimberly Schneider.

Outside the Capitol, things remained lively, with children sledding nearby. A small convoy of maintenance trucks have kept the Capitol walks fairly clean, but side streets around the Hill are still treacherous and cars along the streets remain buried in snow.

Some members from snow-prone states, including Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), plowed their way into their offices early Monday morning, partly as a matter of principle.

Several of Murkowski's constituents showed up promptly for scheduled meetings Monday.

"We're Alaskans; we don't take snow days," said Murkowski spokesman Michael Brumas. "We're here to serve - even when it snows 30 inches."

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), who was snowed in at his Potomac, Md., home, still made sure to have several staffers answering the phones.

"It's pretty tough to explain to folks back in Minnesota, two days after the snow stopped falling, why you still didn't make it to work," said Oberstar spokesman John Schadl. "It doesn't fly back there."

Treacherous conditions also didn't faze Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who managed to appear Saturday morning at the Democratic National Committee winter conference to garner support for the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, despite a record snowfall.

But less snow-savvy members, including Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), may wish they had left town.

Sherman's Cadillac, replete with California member plates, got stuck in the snow while traveling down Ninth Street Southeast Saturday afternoon.

Luckily for Sherman, five strangers came to his aid, pushing and digging out his car.

Across Facebook Monday, a number of frustrated Americans seemed to celebrate Congress's legislative freeze.

"I hope it snows forever. If they can't vote, they can't do any damage," Joe Estep wrote on Cornyn's Facebook page.

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Source: By: Erika Lovley and Jake Sherman and James Hohmann. Originally published by Politico on February 09, 2010