The greeting from the congressman in his office this week was sudden and startling: “Can you blog and walk at the same time?” Nebraska Representative Lee Terry, smiling, asked as he stepped out of a closed-door meeting to meet me.
I was more than a little nervous meeting the congressman on Tuesday. Standing next to the world’s greatest hockey player 40 or 50 nights each winter with a digital recorder is old hat; being in the Rayburn House Office Building awaiting a one-on-one interview with a member of Congress most definitely is not. Washington is home to the no. 1 power play in all the NHL, but that’s a power play that’s no match for the power played up on Capitol Hill.
I was expecting to sit across from the congressman in his office for a few minutes Tuesday and pepper him with questions pertaining to his formation, just last week, of the first-ever Congressional Hockey Caucus, when suddenly and most unexpectedly I learned I’d be taking my interview mobile. And I had no idea where we were going. You can be a power lobbyist in D.C. and not earn more than a few minutes’ time with a Capitol Hill lawmaker, especially at arm-twisting times like these, and I certainly wasn’t one of those. I was a hockey blogger — and one who didn’t even contribute to the congressman’s most recent re-election campaign. Or any of his campaigns for that matter.
But apparently there was charm enough in my appeal to his press secretary last week to make such a meeting happen. More likely, there was a late cancellation in his 5:00 Tuesday timeslot. Anyway, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to make the trip up to Capitol Hill to talk the all important ‘H’ word in public policy this week with Representative Terry.
It’s kind of busy up on the Hill these days, you may have noticed, and sure enough, the premise of the congressman’s question to me was his need to move toward the House floor for a vote early Tuesday evening. He invited me to accompany him on the journey, meaning, I got to ride an elevator for representatives in the Rayburn building, move through an underground parking garage, and access the basement of the Capitol, chatting puck with the lawmaker all the while.
Take that, hockey bloggers in San Jose!
Is this really the first-ever Congressional Hockey Caucus, I asked the congressman as we stepped into the Rayburn elevator.
“Yes!” he affirmed with enthusiasm and emphasis.
“They never heard of one before — when we asked they were just stunned. A lot of these [caucuses] are just recreated every year. So they had not had a hockey caucus before.”
We were making a hasty journey to the House floor, and I knew I didn’t have time for a lot of followup with the congressman. Somebody — the House Sergeant at Arms? — vets proposals for new caucuses, apparently. In this instance, perhaps the Sergeant played hockey himself. Anyway, today puckheads have a powerful set of friends in a high place. And last week a group of hockey playing lawmakers laced up their skates and took to the ice at the Ft. Dupont Ice Arena to skate against lobbyists, in a game to raise money for the cash-beleaguered rink. The game raised more than $50,000 for Ft. Dupont! It was from his involvement that evening that Rep. Terry, joined by New York Congressman Brian Higgins and Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley, decided to form the Congressional Hockey Caucus. Congressman Terry told Roll Call earlier this month that participation in hockey promotes discipline, teamwork, and fitness.
The congressman wasn’t positive of the exact number of members in the puck caucus, but he pegged it at about 10. Not bad for a week’s work. The congressman welcomes membership from colleagues with no background in hockey whatsoever.
“It’s about getting kids active and doing youth sports programs through hockey,” he told me. “My kids, my youngest right now, is doing inline [skating], and he’ll switch over to ice in the fall.”
“I never played organized hockey,” the congressman confessed. “But my youth was spent at the Tomahawk Park, in Omaha, Nebraska, and they’d flood the basketball court in winter, and every kid met there, with your skates, and played hockey every day.”
“I’m just a big hockey fan.”
A Capitals’ fan?
“Yea! A little bit. I haven’t been to a game this year, though.”
Neither has President Obama, I informed the Republican lawmaker. I detailed a bit the other new hockey initiative in town — the Facebook campaign to get POTUS seated at Verizon Center for a hockey game, instead of just basketball.
“He’s a basketball fan,” Rep. Terry noted with diplomacy.
If you could give the President one message in an attempt to entice him to attend a hockey game, what would it be? I asked.
“It’s a fast-paced sport, Mr. President, and you’re gonna get hooked.”
“I’ve got three boys, ages 15, 12 and 9,” he added. “We sit and watch hockey, the NHL, on TV, we watch the Capitals, we watched the Chicago game on Sunday. It’s very much a family activity.”
The very bipartisan hockey caucus, Rep. Terry admitted, is largely symbolic.
“Some caucuses will get involved in pieces of legislation, but we don’t see a necessity for a lot of hockey legislation,” he said with a laugh.
“But when we start talking about youth programs, exercise programs, that’s when we’ll inject ourselves and say, ‘Hey, there’s indoor activities too that need to be included, even in the coldest months, and it’s not all basketball.”
“We want hockey included in the discussions of youth participation in sports programs.”
As our walk toward a fresh roll call came to its conclusion I asked the congressman if I could share with him three hypothetical policy priorities for pursuit by the caucus. I asked him to give me a ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay’ on each. He obliged.
- Policy objective number one: some manner of formal commemoration in our culture for the Miracle on Ice.
“We should look at that!” the congressman exclaimed.
- Policy objective number two: Special Order speeches on the House floor that simply champion the sport of hockey.
“Yes, that would be part of [the caucus’ cause].”
- Policy objective number three: coming to the defense of Washington’s much-under-attack-these-days hockey hero, Alexander Ovechkin.
Rep. Terry, chuckling: “I don’t think we want to get in on that, but I saw that [hit], he shouldn’t have been suspended.”
Washington the new hockey town now has a big hockey-hearted advocate for its sport up on Capitol Hill. There may not be much in the way of federal legislation coming out of the deliberations of the first-ever Congressional Hockey Caucus, but I’m still going to press the producers of C-SPAN to cover its meetings.