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Taking Capitol Hill With AIPAC

Amateurs lobbyists jaunt to Capitol Hill

Adam Chandler
March 05, 2013
(Adam Chandler)
(Adam Chandler)

One of my favorite only pieces of trivia–which I’ve been told is subject to dispute–is the history of the word “lobbyist.” The legend goes that when Ulysses S. Grant was president (and no longer the a Union general attempting to expel the Jews), he had a cigar habit that his wife abhorred.

Accordingly, despite his massive power, Grant was reduced to finding refuge for his afternoon cigars across the street from the White House in the lobby of the Willard Hotel. There he would smoke and there political dealmakers would wait in the hopes of getting to speak to him and convince him to support their various causes, thus birthing (by some accounts) the term “lobbyist.”

Much less waiting and uncertainty are required to be a lobbyist nowadays it seems. At least, not for the thousands of AIPAC participants who, following the convention’s last plenary, stormed Capitol Hill to meet with their representatives. The participants were bussed to Capitol Hill just 12 hours after an AIPAC roll call had brought 65 senators, 274 house members, 33 American administration officials, 77 Israeli government officials, and 65 foreign ambassadors before the body at the AIPAC gala. (The gala, in case you cared, also featured an Israeli dance troupe, black Hebrew gospel singers, some tearjerking speakers, an Iron Dome battery operator, and the first speaking appearance of Senator Mark Kirk, who suffered a stroke the year before and greeted the crowds with “a message for the dictators in Tehran: I’m baaaaaaaaack.”)

The trek of AIPAC participants back to the Hill was much less ceremonious. Nice weather had held and across Independence Avenue, you could see AIPAC swarms leaving meetings, scurrying to others, posing for pictures in front of the Capitol, delivering motivational speeches up and down the hill.

Miriam Pultman of St. Louis joined a friend in lobbying both Missoruh Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt as well as House member Ann Wagner. I asked her about her lobbying experience and if the representatives had been receptive.

“It was sort of like preaching to the choir,” she said, “We ran out of Missourians to lobby.”

Outside of the Rayburn House Office, Stacey Rosch of New York broke down her strategy.

“We went to several lobbying appointments, first with the Senate in the morning and then the House in the afternoon. It was the perfect capper to the conference.”

Rosch left, walking past a group of students from the Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles, which had sent 26 delegates to AIPAC and met with their representatives in small clusters. Seeming heartened by the experience, they huddled before breaking to tour the Capitol building, putting their hands into the center of the circle–save for one girl who announced that she was shomer negiah–and shouted Yaaaaaay AIPAC to the confusion and amusement of passersby.

“It was cool to see how much the Congresspeople knew about Israel,” one student commented.

I met another pair, who wished not to be named, who said they had struck out in their afternoon lobbying efforts.

“Both our senators had left to go vote,” one said.

“Or at least that’s what their staff said,” the other added.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.