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House Democratic Cloakroom Rallies a Fresh Team

When Democrats slip off the House floor and into their members-only Cloakroom this session, they’ll notice a big difference.

No, the snack bar’s beloved seafood salad recipe hasn’t changed. Nor has the long, narrow lounge lost any of its 10 plump, brown leather couches.

However, recent retirements mean a new manager and some fresh faces will serve Democrats’ needs in the private L-shaped space that serves as a comfortable reprieve from floor action, prowling reporters and the scrutiny of constituents peering down from the gallery.

Bob Fischer, formerly an assistant in the long-standing institution, officially takes the helm as the new chief of floor services, appointed by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He replaces Barry Sullivan, who retired in mid-November after 33 years of service to the House.

Fischer will be assisted by new hire Rose Keating, who has worked in the House since 2007, most recently serving as a House floor operations clerk and previously as chief of the Democrats’ page program. A third assistant position remains vacant after the December retirement of veteran staffer Wren Ivester.

The departures have been “bittersweet” and “overwhelming” for Fischer, who was hired as a Cloakroom assistant manager in 1993 and has seen minimal personnel changes in the two decades since. One was the retirement of Tim Friedman, who served in the Cloakroom from 1985 through 1996.

“All of the sudden, I’m kind of left here by myself,” he reflected during a recent interview with CQ Roll Call. “It will be exciting to kind of feel our way through it, get a new team together and see if we can continue to assist the members in the way that they’ve been accustomed to being helped in the Cloakroom.”

Fischer was one of the many Buffalo, N.Y., natives recruited to House service by hometown-proud former House Doorkeeper James T. Molloy. During a five-day visit to the District in April 1987, Fischer took a tour of the Capitol with Molloy, a friend of his firefighter father. Molloy casually mentioned that he had a spot available in his office and inquired whether Fischer, then 22, would be interested in relocating to D.C.

“Literally, over lunch I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a try,’” Fischer said. “It was that spur of the moment.”

By early June, Fischer learned how to give a tour of the Capitol and spent the summer showing off the nooks and crannies of his new workplace to tourists. He also put his English degree to use, writing for Floor Today, an in-house publication distributed to the doorkeepers so they could keep up to date with the daily legislative schedule.

“[I] didn’t know if I’d stay for 10 weeks, or who knows, and now it’s 27 years later and this is home,” he said.

After nearly a year in that job, Fischer joined the Office of the House Sergeant-at-Arms. His duties revolved around special events, including planning the inauguration of George H.W. Bush and escorting visiting dignitaries to their Capitol Hill meetings. He also coordinated funeral delegations and he staffed Republican and Democratic conventions.

By January 1993, Fischer was ready for a new role. He’d witnessed the behind-the-scenes activity of Congress but felt like he had missed out on “what’s actually going on out on that floor.”

Interested in learning the legislative process, he applied for an opening in the Cloakroom and was appointed by then-Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash.

Fischer’s first few months were rough. Members accustomed to Sullivan and Friedman were friendly, but they depended on familiar faces to answer their questions. He first connected with fellow New Yorker Eliot L. Engel, then James P. Moran, who discovered that Fischer lived in his Northern Virginia district.

Today, Fischer has many long-standing relationships. An avid hockey player who skates for his party in the Congressional Hockey Challenge, he likes to talk sports with Illinois lawmaker Mike Quigley. He cheers on the Buffalo Sabers with New Yorker Brian Higgins and sometimes flips the Cloakroom’s massive flat-screen TV to the channel airing the big games.

Higgins called Fischer the “go-to guy” for members and a “consummate professional,” when asked about the appointment. Molloy, he said, brought on “Bobby and a lot of kids from home.  . . .  He’s done very, very well in charting his own course.”

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