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Someone’s Been Sitting in My Chair

The Democrats’ takeover of the House has left a lot of former GOP committee chairmen and would-be chairmen without a seat at the top table. But while some Republicans have adjusted to their new roles in the minority, one GOP lawmaker has refused to take any perceived mistreatment from the majority sitting down.

Last Thursday, House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member John Mica (Fla.) led a dramatic Republican walkout from a committee gathering in protest of an egregious slight. What was the abuse that drove the soft-spoken Mica to stand up for the rights of the aggrieved minority? [IMGCAP(1)]

Mica didn’t have a chair to sit in. Or rather, he did have a chair, but he didn’t like its location.

The Transportation meeting was slated to be a basic orientation session for the panel’s Republican and Democratic members, who would get some introductory information about how the committee would operate and also hear from a couple of expert guests, including former U.S. Ambassador Felix Rohatyn and legendary ex-Transportation Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.).

Unfortunately, the panel’s Republicans — including Rep. Bill Shuster (Pa.), son of the former chairman — never got to hear the elder Shuster’s pearls of wisdom.

Here’s why, as Mica described it to HOH: “I went in to the meeting and there were two chairs in the front for our guests and one for [Transportation Chairman James Oberstar] (D-Minn.) and I said, ‘Where am I supposed to sit?’”

Mica said a Democratic staffer kindly told him that he could sit in the audience, along with the panel’s staff and rank-and-file members. According to two sources familiar with what happened, Mica then gave the staffer a bit of a tongue-lashing.

“First I said, ‘Can you get another chair?’” Mica recalled, adding that he then left the room to wait for said chair. “I was not pleased with the arrangement to sort of exclude the ranking member at the first meeting, so I left and I thought about it a little bit more and pulled all the Republican members and staff from the meeting.”

One source who was present said Mica was “stewing” in the hallway for a while before sending a GOP staffer in to get all the Republicans out of the room. The meeting and the guest speeches went on as planned, to a Democrats-only audience.

So are there any lingering bad feelings about the incident? Mica says no.

“It appears to be an unintentional mistake,” he said. “Mr. Oberstar came to me immediately on the floor … and said he was chagrined and it wouldn’t happen again.”

An Oberstar spokeswoman declined to comment on the whole incident, but HOH suspects there may be a big comfy chair ready for Mica the next time the committee meets.

Juiced. Any good spinmeister knows that the way to a reporter’s heart is through his or her stomach, and the House GOP’s new chief messenger — Republican Conference Committee Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) — seems to have already taken that lesson to heart.

In a nod to his home state, Putnam offered reporters Florida’s Natural orange juice at his weekly pen-and-pad session on Tuesday. Before coming to Congress, Putnam worked on his family’s citrus farm, which is part of the agriculture cooperative run by — you guessed it — Florida’s Natural Growers.

A spokesman for Putnam took a metaphorical stand on Putnam’s beverage of choice. “It’s been a hectic ‘100 hours’ but we will have a lot of juice left,” Ed Patru said.

While reporters appreciated the gesture, HOH suspects the Congressional press corps would be more enthusiastic about pen-and-pad sessions hosted by Members like Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.), whose district includes the Maker’s Mark bourbon distillery, or Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), whose district is home to the Jack Daniel’s whiskey distillery.

Graduation Day. Now that they’re in power, House Democrats can do basically whatever they want. And one of their first steps is a drastic one — getting rid of all of the freshmen.

No, Democratic leaders did not push all the first-term Members off a cliff or anything. They just decided, apparently, that there shouldn’t be any such thing as a “freshman” anymore.

According to The Hotline, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) revealed the new policy at a breakfast Wednesday sponsored by National Journal and NBC. At the breakfast, Clyburn mentioned the “freshmen” and then caught himself, explaining that first-termers weren’t to be called that anymore.

Why not? Clyburn spokeswoman Kristie Greco said her boss and other leaders think the word freshman has a high school connotation that doesn’t convey a Member’s real importance. Instead, leaders try to call the first-term lawmakers “new” Members or — as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) prefers — “Majority Makers.”

“They’re not the naive kind of people you think of when you think of a freshman in high school,” Greco said.

HOH only hopes that this won’t lead to a ban on freshman hazing.

Susan Davis contributed to this report.

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