By Ray Smock
When I was historian of the House of Representatives I kept a journal that described some of my observations of the House and my impressions of the people and events I witnessed. What follows is from my journal entry of January 6, 1993. The 103rd Congress opened on January 5, the day before, so this entry reflects on that event and on the counting of the Electoral College ballots that took place on the afternoon of Jan. 6. In a few days these two events will be repeated again. It is quite a track record when you think about it. These events mark the renewal of the House every two years since 1789, and every four years since 1789 the counting of Electoral Ballots to complete the constitutional requirement for the election of President of the United States.
The circumstances surrounding the convening of the 113th Congress in 2013 are dramatically different than the events I witnessed twenty years ago. The nation is in a different place as the current Congress convenes. We are witnessing one of the worst displays of dysfunction—the inability to conduct the regular order of business that good governance depends on. I believe we will survive this crisis just as we have many other crises before this. But the process we are going through right now surely tests the resolve of those of us who firmly believe in the central importance of Congress to the proper functioning of our government.
In 1993 the House was reeling from the effects of several internal scandals, including malfeasance in the House Postmaster’s office and the House “Banking” scandal in the Sergeant at Arms office, which caused a number of members to lose their seats over what was publicly described as a check kiting scheme. And there was the fall of Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D.-IL), eventually convicted of a felony in relation to the Post Office scandal. Collectively these serious issues in a House run by Democrats would lead to the loss of Democratic control of the House for the first time in 40 years, as Republicans capitalized on the scandals to become the majority party in 1995.
I hope you will enjoy this look at the Opening of the 103rd Congress as I saw it, twenty years ago.
Opening Day of the 103rd Congress, January 5, 1993.
Counting the Electoral Ballots, January 6. [Entry 329—Smock’s Journal]
Yesterday the 103rd Congress convened with its large freshman class. There are an incredible number of new faces around Congress this year. Not only are there 110 new members, but a lot of new staff as well. With the big shift of offices, with senior members vying for larger more prestigious space, and the large number of new members drawing for their offices in a lottery, the face of the three office buildings has dramatically changed too. Some of these new members will do just fine and quickly adapt to the national legislature. Others looked lost yesterday, and some of them will remain lost for years. Right now there is a great deal of focus on the freshmen, but it remains to be seen if this class has any cohesiveness and clout that will lead to reforms within the institution or result in a better legislative record than past congresses.
I attended the opening session, which is always fun. The members bring their kids onto the floor while proud spouses and other relatives beam from the gallery. The House rule of not acknowledging the people in the gallery is ignored on opening day as freshmen and senior members alike gestured and waved to those in the galleries.
I went around shaking hands with staff and a few members, wishing them a happy new year. After the swearing in of the new House officers I congratulated them. I had a nice chat with Phil Sharp of Indiana, and urged him to continue his service on the National Historical Records and Publications Commission. The Speaker will have to reappoint him in the next few months. He agreed to stay on but said if there was someone else who could do the job better, he would be glad to step aside. He said his wife, who is a mystery writer, is doing some genealogical work on the Battle of Monmouth. I told him we had some indexes to the Revolutionary War records and invited her to stop by. While we were chatting in the back of the chamber Leon Panetta came by to chat with Phil. I shook his hand and congratulated him on his new appointment as Clinton’s new Director of OMB. He seemed to be pretty happy about his new assignment.
For most of the session I stood at the rail along the Democratic side. Seated in front of me was Congressman Paul McHale [D.-PA], the new member representing the Lehigh Valley, and his three young kids. One of the pages brought over some crayons and paper to entertain them during the session. Young Matt, who must have been about six, drew a colorful little monster. I complimented him on it and said it ought to go in the Archives as an example of Congressional art from the 103rd Congress. Matt’s dad leaned back and said it might be the only art Jesse Helms would approve. Earlier the youngster had asked me if I was a Member of Congress like his dad. I said no, that I was the Historian. I said my job was to see to it that his dad got into the history books. He seemed impressed with the idea that his dad was now a part of history.
I have been at this job over nine years now. More than half the members have been here less time than I have. The guards and doorkeepers are more likely to recognize me than most members. It is an eerie feeling in some ways. This place changes more dramatically every two years than most people imagine. I’m sure a member of the minority might not feel the same about the pace of change, but I am not so much talking about party politics or political power as much as I am the subtler aspects of this complex institution and its daily workings. It has taken me almost a decade to get to the point where my office is not something new to most people. I am still one of the newest officers of the House.
This year, however, the Office of the Historian is no longer the last item mentioned in Rule 1 of the House Rules. The new Office for Non‑Legislative and Financial Services was officially approved when the House rules were adopted yesterday. This becomes the newest House entity and my office moves up a notch in the list of clauses describing the Duties of the Speaker. This new office has much larger ramifications for the existing officers than my little operation ever did. The new director has his work cut out for him trying to figure out how to operate around here. If the new man, a retired Army general named [Leonard] Wishart, has as long a gestation period as my office has had, it may be a decade before he is accepted into the institutional workings.
I stopped by to see the Clerk [Donn Anderson] one evening last week and had a drink with him. Ray Colley, his deputy, wandered in with some papers for the Clerk to sign and the subject of the new officer came up. I said as far as I was concerned there was no need to create such an office. If there were problems and scandals to address, then address them head on. But why create a new layer of bureaucracy to address things that have already been fixed. The Postmaster was fired and that position, as an elected officer of the House, has been abolished. The Sergeant at Arms was fired and the disbursing office under his direction was abolished, the infamous House Bank. Why the House felt it had to go on to create another office to handle some of the functions currently handled by the Clerk, Doorkeeper, and Sergeant at Arms is political in motivation rather than a decision based on sound fiscal management.
Colley lamented the fact that General Wishart had called the director of the finance office, Mike Heny, and asked Mike to prepare him to present the budget of the House before the Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Appropriations when testimony is given on January 21. The General had already violated the first rule of etiquette around here. The Clerk of the House is the officer who has presented the budget of the House for more than two centuries. If the new man and the new office are to assume this task, I am sure the Clerk would concede this role. But for the General to go to one of the Clerk’s employees, without the courtesy of approaching the Clerk beforehand, is insulting to those who have diligently performed this function in the past.
Once the Office of Finance is transferred to General Wishart’s control, he can do what he wants in this regard, although I would think it is still up to the chairman of the subcommittee to decide who he wants to actually present the budget. The Office of the Clerk is undergoing a difficult transition right now. I’m sure General Wishart is experiencing some difficulties of his own as he tries to assume the duties the House has given him. It will not be easy for the old officers or this new one. It is hard to get hold of power in this institution. Once it is achieved, it is hard to let go.
This afternoon at 1:00 P.M. the House convened in joint session to count the ballots of the Electoral College. There were just a handful of House members and senators on the floor to witness the opening of the ballots from the fifty states and the official tally. It was a rather sleepy affair compared to the emotion and excitement of opening day. The Speaker [Tom Foley] sat in his chair throughout the ceremony with nothing in particular to do or say while the President of the Senate, Dan Quayle, presided. Joe Stewart, the Secretary of the Senate, and two assistants sliced open the envelopes from each state and passed them to Dan Quayle who distributed them to the senators and representatives serving as tellers. Each teller in turn would rise and say the name of the state and the fact that the ballot seemed to be authentic and in order and then read the results.
The Clerk of the House and his assistants helped the tellers keep the tally on an official tally sheet. When the ballots of all fifty states were read, Dan Quayle had the task of announcing that Bill Clinton and Al Gore had been duly elected president and vice president of the United States and would be sworn in on January 20th. The whole affair took about 40 minutes. There was an occasional twitter of applause when the results of a few states were announced. Occasionally the galleries erupted in applause as the name of a certain state was announced. While applause from the gallery is not generally tolerated, neither the Speaker nor the Vice President bothered to admonish anyone on this point.
I stood on the right side of the podium down by the portrait of George Washington. Bernie Raimo, the Chief Counsel of the Ethics Committee and I chatted quietly about history and the Electoral College during the ceremony. Occasionally another staffer would drift in and we would chat and shake hands and make little jokes. The Doorkeeper walked by at one point and I slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Not one single electoral vote for Jim Molloy, better luck next time.” The Architect of the Capitol, George White, came by and said to me “While this isn’t very exciting, it’s a nice bit of constitutional history don’t you think?” I agreed.
I like this event because it is so low‑key. It is a ceremony that fulfills a constitutional requirement. The fact that it could be so low‑key and unemotional is a testament to the stability of the government and our long history of peaceful transitions of power. Many countries on this planet would like to get to the point where the counting of presidential ballots could go so smoothly, and almost be taken for granted.
Charlie Johnson the Deputy Parliamentarian came over and shook my hand when the count was over. He said he had to watch things there for a minute and make sure the microphone was off. It seems Senator Wendell Ford and Vice President Quayle started up a conversation about a football game while Quayle was passing a ballot down to Ford. It may not have sounded too good to go out on the air or even to be heard in the chamber but I rather liked the casualness of it, which only further emphasized to me the remarkable way in which we transfer enormous political power.
I also introduced myself to Congressman McHale of Pennsylvania who I saw for the first time the day before when I stood behind seats occupied by him and his children. I told him I had friends in Fogelsville in his district. They were delighted when he defeated Don Ritter. He told me to pass his thanks on to them. He asked me about my job and I told him a few things. He said it sounded like a great job and one that would interest him if he wasn’t in Congress. I laughed and grabbed his arm and said I hoped he would be elected to Congress until the day I retired. I said, “You be the Congressman, I’ll be the Historian.” He said, “You know, I have the same problem. I was telling a state representative the other day how exciting it is to be a Congressman, and then I realized that if I made it sound too good, she would be running for my seat before long.”
I stopped by the Republican cloakroom to see Jim Oliver [assistant manager of the Republican Cloakroom]. About a dozen members were sitting around having a little lunch, some seated in the big leather chairs with a little board across the arms to hold their plates. Jim had some old photographs he wanted to show me, including a rare photograph taken in the cloakroom itself about seventy years ago. We stood on the very spot the photographer did and compared how the room looked then to its present configuration. It was remarkably the same, except for some missing fireplaces that were removed in the 1940s.
I walked over to the Republican side of the chamber where Stephen Horn [R.-CA] was seated. I met Steve before he was elected, having had lunch with him about a year ago. Before that I knew of him by reputation as a scholar of Congress. Steve was at the Brookings Institution back in the mid-sixties; about the same time I came to Maryland to start graduate school. I never met him then but I did know some of the books he wrote including Unused Power: The Works of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and his earlier work The Cabinet and Congress (1960). Now he is back looking at Congress from the perspective of a member of the House.
I think it is great to have a man like Steve Horn in the House. He has one of the best private collections of books on Congress of anyone in the country. He has been a close student of American politics for almost forty years. He recognized me and shook my hand vigorously and introduced me to Jim Ramstad [R.-MN] and said “Ray is a real scholar of the House.” I said coming from him that was quite a compliment. I asked him to stop by and see me sometime. He said he had been meaning to do so as soon as he got settled. I think I’ll arrange to go out to lunch with him sometime soon before the legislative schedule presses in on him. I can learn a lot from him. I want to get to know him better. He strikes me as a truly decent, talented, unassuming man.
Ultimately it is men and women of Steve Horn’s ilk that make this institution endure. The democratic process doesn’t mean the House is always populated with the best and the brightest. Nor can it guarantee that crooks and charlatans are not elected. The key is that the institution, while containing corruption, does not succumb to it. None of the scandals of the past few years have shaken my faith in the fundamental importance of Congress to the healthy political life this country enjoys and the overall competence of most of the people who serve here.
Epilogue on Cast of Characters
January 2, 2013
Here is a brief update on the persons mentioned in this journal entry in the order of their appearance.
Phil Sharp [D.-IN] served in the House from 1983 to 1995. Since then he served as director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In 2005 he became president of Resources for the Future in Washington, DC.
Speaker Tom Foley [D.-WA] served as Speaker from 1989 to 1995. He subsequently served as United States Ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2001, under President Clinton.
Leon Panetta [D.-CA] served in the House from 1977 to January 1993, when he became Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton until July 1994 when he became White House Chief of Staff from 1994 to 1997. From 2009 to 2011 he served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama and since July 2011 he has been Secretary of Defense.
Paul McHale [D.-PA] served in the House from 1993 to 1999. Later he was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense from 2003 to 2009, which included being recalled to active duty in the Marine Corps for deployment to Afghanistan. He currently is a private consultant on matters of disaster preparedness and homeland security.
Jesse Helms [R.-NC] served for thirty years in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2003. He died in 2008. The passing reference to him in this journal relates to his outspoken opposition to the erotic art of Robert Mapplethorpe and his attempts to pressure the National Endowment of the Arts to refrain from funding controversial artists.
Leonard P. Whishart III (Lt.Gen. U.S. Army ret.) served as the first and only director of the House of Representatives Office of Non- Legislative and Financial Services from October 1992 to January 1994. His office was replaced in 1995 by a new office, the Chief Administrative Officer.
Donnald K. Anderson was Clerk of the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995. He began his 35 years of service in the House in 1959 as a page. Since his retirement he remains active in charity work and is a prominent Catholic layman. I spent a good deal of time with Donn Anderson, who was always willing to share his extensive knowledge of the House at its bureaucratic and Byzantine best. He also kept a good sideboard of scotch whiskey in his office for after-hours conversations.
Ray Colley was Deputy Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 to 1995. He and Donn Anderson, were among my best mentors in helping me understand the interior world of the House, its officers, members, and folkways. Ray was a leader in Virginia Democratic politics for many years. He died in 2011.
Mike Heny directed the House financial operations for many years and was the person directly responsible for preparing the House budget each year. My office, the Office of the Historian, was the smallest unit of the House that required separate budget figures each year. Mike helped me with the numbers and always had me prepared when I testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.
Dan Quayle was the 44th Vice President of the United States from 1989 to 1993, serving with President George H. W. Bush. In his role as President of the Senate, he had a ceremonial role in the counting of the Electoral Ballots.
Walter J. Stewart, was Secretary of the U.S. Senate from 1987 to 1994. Joe began his long service with the Senate as a page in the 1950s. He serves on the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States. Closer to home, he is chairman of the board of the Congressional Education Foundation, which oversees the work of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.
Bernard Raimo, Jr. is a long time House Democratic staff member and attorney.
Jim Molloy was Doorkeeper of the House for twenty years from 1974 to 1994. He was the last person to hold this office which dated back to 1789. The Doorkeeper’s office was abolished when Newt Gingrich became Speaker in 1995. Jim was a friend and neighbor of mine when we lived in Laurel, Maryland. He was another of my mentors and one of the great characters to ever serve the House. He died in 2011.
George H. White was Architect of the U.S. Capitol from 1971 to 1995. He was first appointed to the position by President Nixon. He died in 2011.
Charles Johnson had a long and distinguished career of 40 years in the House Parliamentarian’s Office, and was Parliamentarian from 1994 to 2005. Charlie and his long time boss, William Holmes Brown, were valuable mentors and befriended me when I arrived in the House in 1983. No office is more important to the daily flow of business in the House than the Parliamentarian. No staff members on the Hill, then and now, are better professionals than those found in the Parliamentarian’s offices of the House and Senate.
Wendell Ford [D.-KY] served in the U.S. Senate from 1974 to 1999.
Don Ritter [R.-PA] served in the House from 1979 to 1993.
Jim Oliver was assistant manager of the Republican Cloakroom for more than 20 years. His long service to the House of forty years began when he was a page. Jim appreciated the importance of the history of the House and worked tirelessly to help maintain Congressional Cemetery. He retired in 2007.
John Stephen Horn [R.-CA] was President of California State University, Long Beach, for many years before his election to the House. He served in the House from 1993 to 2003. He died in 2011.
Jim Ramstad [R.-MN] served in the House from 1991 to 2009.
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