Hey, senator, what’s in your pockets?
Sen. Byron Dorgan’s answer: three crumpled dollar bills and a receipt from Heidelberg Bakery, where he stopped for breakfast. Showing his pockets’ contents, Dorgan (D-N.D.) turned to Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of the wealthiest senators.
“I always count on coming to work and borrowing a few dollars from this guy,” he said.
Dorgan should be fine without a Lautenberg loan — senators get paid $174,000 a year.
At a time when Americans are worried about their pocketbooks, POLITICO asked 20 random senators to reveal the contents of their own pockets.
What we found isn’t the stuff of official Senate biographies but provides an insight into lifestyle and personality: The Commerce Committee chairman has hearing aide batteries, the former casino manager carries two wallets, and the rookie doesn’t travel without his hand sanitizer.
Lautenberg stopped and dug through his pockets one by one, proffering the usual litany: handkerchief, comb, scheduling cards, glasses, business cards, wallet and money.
“Never quite enough for the things you want to do,” said Lautenberg, whose net worth has been estimated at around $90 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Lautenberg had a container of white Tic Tacs in his left outside coat pocket to match his pearly whites. Later, he said he forgot to pull out his iPhone. “I use this to show my age,” he said, adding that when people tell him he’s old, he whips out the phone to show he’s cool.
Perhaps the most complete account came from Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who went through his pockets and explained every item. Carper’s payload: a cell phone, keys, two handkerchiefs, wallet, pens (blue), a Sharpie, reading glasses, business cards, Chapstick, an ear piece for his cell phone and some loose change.
Freshman Sen. Mark Begich’s pocket contents are sentimental. He pulled out a simple 18-karat gold money clip given to him 30 years ago by his mother, shortly after his father died in a plane crash.
“I’m from Alaska,” he said, explaining another significant item — a pocket knife.
Begich also had an Alaskan silver coin that was given to him in 2002 by the departing governor and lieutenant governor. “It’s always been in my pocket since then,” he said, holding up the large worn coin.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), another sentimentalist, pulled from his left outside coat pocket a dog-eared copy of the Constitution that Sen. Robert C. Byrd gave him 25 years ago.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), meanwhile, was rueful about the size of his wallet, and he bemoaned the fact that he’s needed reading glasses these past few years. Thune also carries his billfold, cherry-flavored lip balm, pens and some Dentyne Ice Arctic Chill.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) seemed genuinely baffled to be asked but ponied up keys, a Tootsie Roll wrapper, lots of cards with notes, two tea bags, a cell phone, a credit card, a handkerchief and his wallet. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) showed off his pens, wallet and schedule, and a copy of a speech he gave the night before.
In addition to his cell phone, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), a former Las Vegas casino manager, had two wallets. His Washington-only wallet has his Senate identification card and keys, while his other wallet has his driver’s license. The reason for the duplication: If he loses one, he’ll always be able to board a plane with the other, he said.
Then there were the minimalists.
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said he had nothing in his pocket except a pen. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) had a wallet and blue and black pens. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) had his wallet in his inside blazer pocket and a handkerchief on the outside. He also had a small vial of hand sanitizer.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Commerce Committee, carries keys, extra hearing aide batteries, glass wipes, small cards with his most important numbers, a cell phone and, of course, a handkerchief. He doesn’t have a BlackBerry.
Another minimalist, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), said he didn’t have a lot — just a little change and some keys. “My mother would be proud of me if I said a rosary,” he said but noted, in a slightly chagrined tone, that he doesn’t carry one. Lately he hasn’t even been carrying a phone because his BlackBerry is getting fixed.
As for the female senators, there is a bag versus no bag philosophy.
Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln (D-Ark.) doesn’t carry a purse, preferring deep pockets. “Pockets are absolutely essential; I don’t buy any clothes that don’t have pockets.”
In Washington, she carries gum or mints, barrettes, a printed copy of her schedule and a tube of the same color lipstick that she has carried for 30 years. At home, her business cards go in her left pocket and cards from people she meets go on the right.
As for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), “I don’t have any pockets,” she said. “That’s why I have a purse.”
Gesturing with the tube she took out of her pocket, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said, “I carry lipstick. Why should Sarah Palin have all the fun?”
She was then asked the color.
“Garbo,” she said.
She laughed and said she had just made that up.