On Wednesday of this week my office, the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, held a markup, known as a business meeting, in which the Senators in our committee vote on bills that have gone through our committee with a simple “yay”, “nay” or abstention vote. This markup is held in a room right outside of the Senate floor, so that when the Senators finish speaking or voting on the floor, they can stop in and quickly vote before going about their other business. Although the vote is quick, it is still a very formal procedure. Our committee clerk reads a statement and bangs the gavel, and after all the votes are in they have to bang the gavel again, ending the voting session.
These business meetings are usually held in the President’s room, which is a room in the US Capitol that is covered in intricate gold designs and fancy chandeliers, with red leather chairs. It is a room truly designed for a head of state!
This week our committee voted on six different bills, which were all crafted in bipartisan fashion, and none were controversial. As a result, they all passed unanimously. These bills provided cyber security training to small businesses, and also qualified the Zika virus shutdowns of local businesses as natural disasters, so small businesses would be able to qualify for loans from the Small Business Administration to maintain credit and cash flow. As Florida’s senator, a state most affected by the Zika virus, Marco Rubio pushed hard for that bill.
My task was to hold a sign that read “Small Business Committee Markup Room S-26” so that when Senators walked off the Senate floor they would not forget to vote on our bills. I positioned myself between the exit of the floor and the main elevators, amongst a swarm of reporters. Every time a Senator would walk to and from the elevators, the reporters would move in to try to get their next scoop. Every Senator that walked by gave the reporters at least a few seconds of their time to answer a couple questions.
I successfully reminded Senator Hirono of Hawaii to vote, which she responded with a puzzled “oh, that’s right”. My job was officially worthwhile. As the last Senator I needed to scout out was leaving the floor, I approached him with my sign held up and I asked him if he had already voted. Senator Kennedy was the only Senator around at that time, and the 15 or so reporters were silently typing away or watching my exchange. Kennedy stood still, looked down at my sign and then back up at me, and then took the sign out of my hands, turned it right side up, and put it back in my hands. The sign was, unbeknownst to me, upside down as I presented it to the Senator. With a pat on the arm, Kennedy said “happens to the best of us” as all the reporters broke out into laughter, including some of the Capitol police who were standing nearby.
I will never forget that embarrassing moment, and it reminded me that even though you can plan and plan for things, sometimes dumb mistakes still happen. With all the seriousness on the Hill that day, I like to think I at least provided a bit of comic relief to those reporters.