California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ famous exhortation that citizens confront elected officials in public places recently culminated in Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) being chased into a bathroom stall. Though such confrontations are now, as Joe Biden assures us, “part of the process,” it is nonetheless vital to establish some basic rules of etiquette for inevitable similar encounters. Following most senators to the toilet with the appropriate decorum—and perhaps even with a splash of élan and joie de vivre, too!—can only boost one’s chances of legislative success. Herewith then, a short primer:
1. Our first rule is one of the simplest: practicality.
Always allow the senator being harassed ample time to commence defecation etc. before peppering him or her with hardball questions about a stance on the budget etc. Badgering any senator before things take their natural course will hinder that senator’s ability to absorb the details of your own concerns.
2. Begin with an “icebreaker.”
Back in the 1840s, U.S. Senators Henry Clay (Whig, Ky.) and John C. Calhoun (D-S.C.) often enjoyed the masculine bonhomie of that time by sitting in stalls side by side, together grunting and whooping in a kind of sing-song to celebrate legislative victories. If the senators you are harassing are doing anything like this, feel free to introduce your own “descant whooping from without” to show that, despite your potential differences, you nonetheless celebrate their unpretentious love of country and the legislative process. If your senatorial prey falls along distaff lines, a simple, “May I offer you a moist towelette, Ma’am?” can sometimes do the trick.
3. The flush rule.
If the senator you have cornered in the bathroom stall remains stoically unresponsive to your questions, Senate tradition encourages you to politely ask whether they might at least flush to acknowledge they are listening. Even if that senator earnestly yearns for you to skedaddle, most will nonetheless do this out of respect for the honored tradition itself, even as they squat resentfully.
4. Notes for a later appointment.
It is an unfortunate fact of Senate history that the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) suffered from painful anal warts and often bellowed in agony while emptying his bowels of the rich foods to which he was so famously partial. If your own senator is audibly dealing with anything along such lines, it is advisable simply to slip him a note under the stall, asking the senator to let you know when he is open to hearing from you about your pressing concerns. Such notes should always be typed, rather than hand-written, and on as sturdy a paper stock as you can find.
5. Come masked for greater effect.
Even if you have heard no sounds for some time, crawling under the stall to see if your senator is paying attention is strictly verboten. But if you simply cannot help yourself, it’s a good idea to don a gorilla mask before venturing under. The sudden fright of seeing an angry gorilla crawling under the stall will often get your senator to quit playing possum and admit he/she is still there after all!
6. Stallmates, stall fakes.
Although rarely done, some persistent legislative advocates have taken the trouble to slip into the stall next to the senator one is trying to communicate with, and have often helped their cause by pretending to be a senior member of the Senate, especially Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) or Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), both of whom may be plausibly imitated via indistinct chortling. Never attempt to imitate Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), as most of his colleagues will inexplicably exit the stall, however prematurely, sometimes trailing toilet-paper streamers as they go.
7. Make allowances for, er, “throat-clearing.”
Elder senators are betimes so unapologetically flatulent that they may perform a squeaky or thunderous overture of sorts before settling down to the actual business at hand. It is vital that this “throat-clearing” preamble be recognized for what it is, and that you take the time to applaud briefly before shifting to shout your political threats.
8. Be mindful of Jack Kennedy wannabes.
In a Washington Post column a few years back the elegant D.C. hostess Sally Quinn said it was an open secret in the late 1950s that Jack Kennedy invited prostitutes to join him in the stalls around the nation’s capital for such activities as were then the accepted right of any handsome young senator. If your own senator is up to similar shenanigans, however, feel free to inform him that times have changed—and that even though you didn’t personally know Jack Kennedy, “You, Sir, are no Jack Kennedy.” You may then demand he give you his full attention, whether you are a prostitute or aren’t.
9. Beware the easily triggered.
Because Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) understandably is nettled by such efforts as here described, approaching him under such circumstances is ill-advised. For less obvious reasons Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) too have become extremely flustered by such approaches, although Leahy may respond in an open and friendly manner after exiting the stall, flushed with the victory of his recent accomplishment. Try accosting him at the sink with a hearty “Congratulations on all you have done for your country, Sir!” before launching into any diatribe against him for being a communist.
10. Beware the bean soup day.
Finally, the navy bean soup served in the Senate dining room is a hoary and genteel American tradition that nonetheless has the dramatic and unintended downside of catapulting uninitiated members of the nation’s most august legislative body into a sudden frenzy that speedily propels them into a hell-for-leather sprint toward the nearest available commode. This humiliating exercise—humorously referred to as one’s “First Real Senate Race”—is a celebrated rite of passage in the Senate, and upon finally leaving the bathroom the perspiring initiates are always greeted with applause and whistles by proud colleagues from both parties. Be forewarned that trespassing upon this bipartisan right will result in being barred from harassing senators “indisposed” for the remainder of their terms.
God Bless, America!