Henry A. Waxman, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 94th Congress through the 113th Congress.
Set forth below are my personal reflections upon learning the news that after serving in the US House of Representatives for 40 years, California Congressman Waxman will retire. It causes me to recall a different era ...
From January to June 1977 I was the sole intern in the Capitol Hill offices of second-termer Hon. Henry A. Waxman. This was a very great privilege for me and I am grateful for the experience. In those day I formed impressions of Congress as an institution and also the men and women who work there.
At that time I was as a senior in high school living in the Hollywood Hills. Our home was in his district though we had no family connection to him before I sought out the position as an intern during the late fall of 1976 shortly after he was re-elected.
Whatever possessed Henry or his staff to hire me I cannot now recall. I was seventeen and wore braces. Come to think of I couldn't even vote. I was interviewed and then hired by his twenty-one year old a.a. named Burt who himself would soon become a very young state assemblyman.
Henry succeeded on the Hill in good part by hiring well. Today I don't think I would have the same opportunity. Yes, in the 95th Congress, in the Longworth office building, we talked about him as "Henry" but always addressed him as Congressman.
This unusually short man who preferred to wear the three-piece suit was then a very young legislator in only his second term. In that moment I don't recall Henry or any of them referring to themselves as the Watergate Congressmen. It was a huge class of members and I recall there was lots of youthful energy and collegiality but there was also lingering hurt in Henry's camp from the one-vote victory in the race for majority leader by Texan Rep Wright over Rep Burton, who I spoke to on the phone several times when he would call. The party caucus that year was a very, very big tent. Today we would say there was no party discipline. That would be an understatement.
And then there was Tip O'Neill who began his term as Speaker only shortly before I arrived. Henry had voted for him for the Speakership so our boss seemed always to be on his good side with Tip's people gave Henry what he wanted. The Speaker in those days was highly visible. Once I shared an elevator with him and Chris Matthews. As fellow Irishman it seemed like we got along fine together.
Another thing about those days. There was no Fox News. Nobody on radio waves calling our boss by insulting nick-names. There was certainly no 24 hour news cycle. Not even close. The news cycle was at least one week or longer so that allowed for contemplation, deliberation and softball.
Henry was pugnacious and when called for he was quite pugilistic. He picked a fight almost right away with Rep. Dingell of Michigan who was seen as supportive of auto makers. When Henry and his senior staff chose after long deliberation to escalate their dispute over air pollution rules in dramatic ways it fell to me at the end of a long day to hand-deliver the first critical letter to Mr. Dingell's office. I recall even now the feelings I had in that moment that Henry and his staff knew exactly what they were doing even though at the very same time it did seem to me anyway I was an anonymous participant in a daring breach of protocol. In character after all since Henry was an integral part of the newest members' group that was even then toppling the seniority system in the House for committee chairmanships.
As intern, my principal job was committee monitoring since the Congressman could himself only attend one of three or more simultaneous subcommittee meetings. This exposed me intensively to the outer workings of the House Energy and Commerce committee. It was in this venue where Mr. Waxman would make his mark. Henry was absolutely tailor-made for that committee work unlike for example the freshman Al Gore who sat on virtually all of the same sub-committees but who seemed to me to be quite bored.. That Rayburn committee room was the place Henry always seemed most truly himself.
Although in Congress he represented Hollywood and other parts of the TMZ (thirty-mile zone) you never, ever saw our congressman on TMZ or any tabloids He avoided scandal. I am glad to say I know almost nothing about his personal life. Today congressman are being caught buying coke in capital parks or stuffing cash in their freezers. Not Henry. For one thing, he NEVER went out to any receptions after work was over. That's why I had my pick of the invitations because knew I would never by accident run into him after hours. From day one he impressed me then as a devoted husband and father.