Friday, October 07, 2005

Fly On The Wall...

The news from Thursday was about the Conservative reaction to the Harriett Miers nomination that took place at the two Wednesday strategy sessions in Washington, DC. I use to attend these sessions on a regular basis and I thought that my faithful READER (that would be YOU Megalon) would appreciate knowing what these meetings are like.

The first meeting is held a conference room in the building housing the offices for Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). The conference room is about 30 feet wide and about 120 feet long. There is a large conference table in the middle of the room, rows of chairs set up at either end of the table, and chairs along the walls. There are about 15 chairs at the table itself that are grabbed by some of the more prominent attendees (though it seems that anyone who wants can sit at the table, as long as they don't take Grover's seat).

The meeting starts at 10:00 am and is hosted by Grover Norquist, President of ATR. He sits in the middle of the table facing the entrance to the room and with his back to the exterior wall and windows. My preferred seat is along the exterior wall, behind and to the left of Grover.

People start arriving around 9:30 am. There is a large coffee maker and a supply of various bagels and cream cheese set out. Staffers from various groups make their way around the room, dropping off fliers and documents on the chairs ("Kill a tree - go to the ATR meeting"). Various notables are there...I won't name names since the meeting is off the record. There are usually some correspondents from news services, someone from Senator Frist's office, someone from Speaker Hastert's office, and a represenative from the White House. The room usually is standing room only by the time Grover arrives through the side door and takes his place at the table. Then he taps on the microphone, and tells us that he has "another razzle, dazzle, fun filled, star studded, action packed show for you this morning."

Grover always starts the meeting with some opening remarks. Grover's comments are on the record; everything else said at the meeting is not (unless the speaker specifically says that his or her comments are on the record). There are typically 15 to 25 different speakers on the agenda. After the scheduled speakers, Grover opens the meeting up "for the good of the order."

Grover wears a small portable microphone; there are two larger wireless microphones that are held by young ATR staffers and given to the speakers and to members of the audience who ask questions. Every so often, someone stands in front of the closet where the receiver for the wireless system is housed and the mics cut out...then everyone shouts at the errant attendee to move.

Speakers can be individuals announcing that they are running for office, office holders discussing new projects for which they are seeking support, lobbyists looking for help from other groups, job seekers looking for work, organizations looking for employees, and visitors from foreign countries interested in learning about the American political system. The meeting usually runs until noon (though on days when the Weyrich luncheon is scheduled, people start heading out at 11:30 am in order to make that noon meeting).

There is a "no cell phone" policy that everyone ignores. One day, a speaker's cell phone went off. Without missing a beat, the man answered his phone, said, "Brittany Spears? Sorry honey, I can't talk now." And then he went on with his presentation.

Anyone hoping to become a regular attendee of the meeting has to interview with Grover. My interview was on a Wednesday morning in late 2000. I met with Grover in his office just a few minutes before that morning's meeting was scheduled to begin. We talked for a few minutes, then I followed him as we took the back way from his office to the conference room. At one point, Grover said, "Turn left here." One of Grover's colleagues, who was walking with us, joked, "This is the only time Grover ever goes to the left."

Here is a link to a report about Grover and the ATR meeting from Mother Jones magazine (I have not read it closely, but I expect it to be hostile):

Another (probable attack) piece from The Nation:

Here is a report about Norquist and the meeting from USA Today:

Here is the Wikipedia article on Grover:


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