Portraits of Cass Sunstein, the first man pulled into the Senate health care hearings

Over the last two years, I’ve had multiple offices in the various hearings on health care reform that were held in our nation’s capital. They were often impenetrable and frustrating, to say the least….

Portraits of Cass Sunstein, the first man pulled into the Senate health care hearings

Over the last two years, I’ve had multiple offices in the various hearings on health care reform that were held in our nation’s capital. They were often impenetrable and frustrating, to say the least. Thankfully, my Metro commutes tended to be more of a challenge. I like to think of them as an excuse to escape Congress for a few hours each week. But my runways for escape have been narrowed ever since last June.

On June 23, 2010, it all went pear-shaped. I participated in the first round of debate on health care reform. I worked a day for the media and one day on health care. I also put in hours inside the briefing rooms, filing questions from reporters that were lined up on paper so I could look it up during break. I also was in this room during the $1.6 trillion spending bill bill, which lawmakers passed in December 2010. The bill raises the minimum wage, offers preschool and helps small businesses.

In the whirlwind of work, I took a few moments to interview Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) about health care reform. He’s someone I’ve known for years, since I met him in 1998 on CNN at a fundraiser for his opponent in the 2000 Senate race.

I was supposed to take his cell phone number and call him and make sure he understood questions before he answered. He gave me my number, but there was no way to call him. So I was on my way out of that meeting with Washington Post health writer Len Burman when I was told by a reporter that he had a recording of his interview on Lieberman.

I couldn’t believe my ears. I had done something I had never done in any of the various hearings on health care reform or the stimulus package: I had consulted former Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-Conn.) head of press office, Chris Shank.

I had been told on June 16, 2010, that there would be a civil hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee about health care. Then-Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was gone and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) was presiding. I went up the steps in the Hart Senate Office Building, and as I did, I noticed many other people inside the Dirksen Senate Office Building elevator with me. I walked back down the other way and entered the elevator. I stopped at the door of the Dirksen building and asked the clerk if we could get in. He nodded and I walked to the Senate elevator. We both stopped on the sixth floor.

They were talking over me. No sign of the trailblazing Lieberman. But then it dawned on me that he had been pulled into this room. I walked away and got into the elevator. I waved my hand. No one seemed to notice I had made the sign. I pulled my turn-down card. The doors opened to a lot of people inside, and the elevator was whizzing along toward the Capitol and into the Senate basement. I noticed when I got out that I was holding a sign for a senator from Minnesota. I didn’t know whom, but I thought they might be from Minnesota, too.

I did know that he wouldn’t be here, and it seemed oddly appropriate that I saw him pass by in an elevator the next day.

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