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The aisle caucus: These Dems crave face time with a president, any president

September 10, 2009 | 10:37 am

President Obama reaches out to shake hands of lawmakers after addressing a joint session of Congress on health care reform Sept. 9, 2009

They are the perennials at any presidential address to Congress: the lawmakers who manage to get an aisle seat and virtually throw themselves into the arms of any president who arrives to deliver a speech.

Last night was no exception.

Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas (last seen at pop icon Michael Jackson's memorial service offering a congressional resolution that never actually materialized) and New York's Eliot Engel (who has been arriving early for State of the Union addresses since the beginning of Bush 41's term) led the fierce competition for an aisle seat to shake President Obama's hand before his speech on healthcare.

"They want face time with the president, whoever he is," observed Rutgers University's Ross Baker. "They are willing to spend half a day or more basically squatting on the aisle just to shake a president's hand or kiss him."

Oddly, they come from safe districts, so it's not like they need the face time with a POTUS to win reelection.

And they seem equally smitten whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican.

But for members of what Baker calls "The Aisle Caucus," the magic seems to be nothing more glorious than rubbing shoulders with political celebrities.

This year, said one congressional source who arrived in the House chamber for preparations, the first arrival seems to have been Michigan Democrat Carolyn Kilpatrick, followed by Engel, who arrived at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to mark his seat.  

In a change from past years, said CNN, some Democrats on Wednesday night even put markers on seats on the Republican side of the aisle. And this year too, some Republicans -- like Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Florida's Cliff Stearns -- came early to reserve seats.

Maybe we should call it the presidential junkie caucus.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Reuters