Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy
In the heart of the US Capitol there’s a small men’s room with an uplifting Franklin Delano Roosevelt quotation above the door. Making use of the facilities there after lunch in the nearby House dining room about a year ago, I found myself standing next to Trent Lott. Once a mighty power in the building as Senate Republican leader, he had been forced to resign his post following some imprudently affectionate references to his fellow Republican senator, arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond. Now he was visiting the Capitol as a lucratively employed lobbyist.
The bathroom in which we stood, Lott remarked affably, once served a higher purpose. History had been made there. “When I first came to Washington as a junior staffer in 1968,” he explained, “this was the private hideaway office of Bill Colmer, chairman of the House Rules Committee.” Colmer, a long-serving Mississippi Democrat and Lott’s boss, was an influential figure. The committee he ruled controlled whether bills lived or died, the latter being the customary fate of proposed civil-rights legislation that reached his desk. “On Thursday nights,” Lott continued, “he and members of the leadership from both sides of the House would meet here to smoke cigars, drink cheap bourbon, play gin rummy, and discuss business. There was a chemistry, they understood each other. It was a magical thing.” He sighed wistfully at the memory of a more harmonious age, in which our elders and betters could arrange the nation’s affairs behind closed doors.