WASHINGTON, DC—With temperatures in the D.C. area expected to remain in the 80-degree range all week, members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have formally petitioned President Clinton for permission to hold Congress outdoors on the National Mall.
"We, the members of the 105th Congress," reads the petition, presented to Clinton by House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), "believe that we have drafted and passed legislation in a timely and prudent manner in past weeks, and otherwise conducted ourselves in a very grown-up fashion. So, can we?"
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said of the request: "Our conduct has been exemplary throughout recent months, yet we have not been allowed to hold Congress outside once this year. I note also that the Supreme Court has made two trips to the National Air & Space Museum as a reward for merely completing its work. This out-of-doors congressional session has been a long time coming, and we are fully confident that the president will see fit to grant it to us."
Bingaman also pointed out a kind gesture Congress made toward Clinton two months ago, when the president was welcomed home from his 12-day African visit with an oversized Manila paper greeting card signed by every member of Congress. "It said, 'Welcome back, Mr. Clinton! Hope you had a fun trip,'" Bingaman said. "We even glued glitter sparklies on it. Clearly, we deserve to go outside."
Legislators note that, despite the president calling the 105th Congress "the best Congress I've ever had"—and despite his May 1997 promise that Congress could go outside on a nice day if it passed his Omnibus Motor-Voter Registration Act—Clinton has not let the current Congress out once.
"The only time we ever get to enjoy a little sunshine while Congress is in session is when there is a fire drill, and they only do those a couple of times a year," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said. "It's not fair that all the other branches of government get to go out except us. We don't even have windows in the Senate chambers."
Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Subcommittee On Having Congress Outside, said there is a grassy, well-shaded spot less than 100 yards from the Capitol that would be perfect for holding Congress. "This spot to which I refer is easily large enough to accommodate the members of both houses," Wyden said. "Furthermore, there are plenty of rocks on the ground that could be used to prevent our legislative papers from blowing away, should a breeze occur."
Responding to the legislators' request, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said that, despite the absence of outdoor privileges, Clinton's treatment of Congress has been quite kind. "The president brought in a bag of fun-size Baby Ruths just a week ago, and when they finished up early on Friday, he allowed them to watch The Lion King. These are not the actions of a mean president," he said.
McCurry said the president's mind is not yet made up regarding the request. "On past occasions when Congress was permitted to conduct its affairs outside, very little legislating actually got done," he said. "Too often, legislators would begin wrestling with each other or putting dandelion heads down the backs of each other's suit jackets. I am not going to name any names, but those involved know who they are."
Responding to McCurry's remarks, members of Congress promised not to get distracted if let outside. They also said Clinton could order them back inside if they fought, threw grass, or started any trouble whatsoever.