With D.C. in drifts, some lawmakers dig in at home

House shuttered as another storm batters capital Senators prove hardier bunch

Children visiting yesterday from Hancock Day School in Savannah, Ga., played in the snow in a park in front of the White House. Children visiting yesterday from Hancock Day School in Savannah, Ga., played in the snow in a park in front of the White House. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
By Matt Viser and Lisa Wangsness
Globe Staff / February 10, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Richard E. Neal was doing paperwork and holding meetings in his Springfield district. Niki Tsongas was nursing a cold in her Lowell condominium, sipping chamomile tea and eating chicken noodle soup. Edward J. Markey has been in Malden, attending a high school basketball game, meeting with constituents, and touring a science lab at MIT.

With the nation’s capital paralyzed by snow - and no House votes scheduled for at least 12 days - many representatives in the Massachusetts delegation have packed their bags and gone home.

“We’re having snow days, without the snow,’’ Barney Frank said in a telephone interview yesterday as he worked from an office in his district, where municipalities have little problem reacquainting motorists with the pavement after a major snowstorm.

He had expected to be on a 10:30 a.m. flight back to Washington yesterday but canceled when impending snow postponed a key legislative hearing tomorrow. “I’m afraid of getting caught down there if I went back,’’ Frank said.

Snow has gripped this city, with the asphalt on the roads only recently becoming visible after a weekend storm dropped more than 2 feet of snow. Another storm hit last night.

“I much prefer to be at home than in Washington,’’ quipped Representative William D. Delahunt, who is preparing to lead a delegation to the Middle East on Friday. “Particularly when you have the three roommates I do.’’ Delahunt shares a house with Democratic senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York, as well as US Representative George Miller, Democrat of California.

Most other members of the delegation were back in Massachusetts, including Michael E. Capuano, a Boston Democrat, who said there was “no way’’ he was spending the congressional recess in Washington. Representative John Tierney of Salem spent the day doing paperwork in the district.

“I’ve been down there before, and they don’t handle it nearly as well as we do, I can tell you that,’’ Tierney said.

“Congress would not be canceled if it was in Boston. But it’s not,’’ said Markey, who had to postpone several hearings.

“People keep reliving the same inadequate response to the snow,’’ Markey added. “It’s a little bit of a part of the culture. President Kennedy used to say it’s a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency. And I think that’s what you see during snowstorms.’’

Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, House Democratic leader, said there would be no formal session for the remainder of the week. The House of Representatives is already scheduled to be adjourned next week for recess.

“It is not yet snowing, but the airlines all think that it may be,’’ Hoyer told reporters, looking out briefly through a picture window in his office suite. “Members are unable to get here because the airlines are reluctant to fly here, and they’re reluctant to get their planes on the ground and get caught here.’’

While House members were quick to decamp for the week, senators proved to be a hardier bunch, taking several votes yesterday and talking of spending the rest of the week on a jobs package.

That did not mean it would not be difficult.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, looked forlorn when he found the doors to the Senate dining room shut.

“Everything is closed here in terms of food,’’ Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, told him.

Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, professed on his Twitter account yesterday to have slept in his office the previous night.

“This is like New England - we love this!’’ said US Senator John F. Kerry. “We’re ready to work. Where is everybody?’’

Flakes began to fall yesterday as senators streamed into the chamber to vote on two appointments.

“Get ready! Snow’s coming!’’ Senator Roland W. Burris, Democrat of Illinois, proclaimed as he emerged after voting.

Harry Reid, the majority leader, told reporters he was preparing to file a jobs bill and he predicted swift action.

“I want to get it done; we may have to work into the weekend because of the weather,’’ Reid told reporters after meeting with President Obama.

Senator Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, got the chance to block a White House nomination for the National Labor Relations Board, but there was little else for him to do but set up his office and watch the weather reports, his pickup truck parked outside his new official digs.

Neal, Democrat of Springfield, said he was “not missing my days as mayor’’ of Springfield as he watched the District of Columbia snowstorm on television. But like most people who have spent time in the nation’s capital, he could not quite understand why the city is so easily overwhelmed by a storm of almost any size.

“They don’t put the plows down on the [pavement]; they put them an inch above the snow,’’ he said.

Neal said he has been making the most of his extended district work period, as Congress calls its recesses. Yesterday found him ensconced in his office, “actually plowing through my desk, if you can appreciate that metaphor.’’

Susan Milligan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at Lisa Wangsness can be reached at