Cover Story

Penn station

Sen. Rick Santorum earned a B.A. in Political Science from Penn State in 1980, but there's little science and a lot of schmoozing in a senator's daily activities. This senator does far better than most in standing by constitutional principle, but the pressures of constituent-servicing are unceasing

Issue: "Rick Santorum: Penn Station," April 30, 2005

At 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5, Rick Santorum-in his 11th Senate year after four years as a congressman-sat for a moment nearly alone in his Capitol Hill office and for the first time in the day showed signs of nervousness. "Where am I supposed to be?" he asked his scheduler. "I know I'm not supposed to be doing nothing."

That was true. The Pennsylvania Republican's schedule for the day listed 33 different items, including meetings with activists and lobbyists, planning sessions with other senators, "greets" (brief interchanges with constituents), "drop bys" (poking his head into conference rooms), drop-ins at Senate hearings and floor debates, and group prayer time.

The Senate Republican Conference chairman (which makes him No. 3 in the GOP hierarchy) also ate fried chicken for lunch and walked it off as he raced from room to room with a female assistant's medium-heeled shoes rat-a-tatting just behind him. He jousted with Washington journalists during the daily "stakeout"-reporters and camera crews wait for political prey in a Capitol corridor-and with a lone reporter while sitting in the Senate barbershop.

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By 9:36 a.m. Mr. Santorum, who will turn 47 next month, had already been up almost five hours. Driving 50 minutes from his home in Leesburg, Va., he played tennis at the Senate court in the Hart Office Building at 6:15. He went to Mass at St. Joseph's (across the street from Hart) at 8:00, breakfasted with political operatives and lobbyists in the Capitol at 8:30, and attended a catechism class with a priest and a half-dozen other legislators at 9:00.

Then began a series of meetings with constituents and visitors in his office and two conference rooms down the hall; sometimes groups waited in each venue of the three-ring circus. The conference rooms are plain-a big wooden table surrounded by chairs-but the desk area of his office is highly personalized with baby photos of his children (six range in age from 4 to 13; one died two hours after being born).

Behind the desk are balls from each year's Congressional Baseball Game: he calls himself a "tall [6'2"], slow, first baseman." On the desk, barely visible from the meeting area of the office, is a wooden plaque that reads "PRAY" and a small gold cross on a stand. Other office items include a Nelson Study Bible and a plate showing a slave in chains with the name of the anti-slavery leader who was the most famous Christian statesman in the history of English-speaking legislatures, Britain's William Wilberforce (1759-1833).

At 9:45 the senator entered the larger of the conference rooms to hear a Pennsylvania conservation district delegation tell him: "Thank you for the funding you brought to our county. . . . The president's budget cuts the funding. We're asking that it stays in the budget. . . . Out west they get a lot more than we do from Washington." The senator was noncommittal.

Three minutes later pages of numbers accompanied another request: "We're looking at the agriculture budget. I've highlighted items particularly important to Pennsylvania. . . . We have quite a demand for a program that was cut. We hope the budget would be cut elsewhere instead of us."

Sen. Santorum smilingly responded, "Everyone says that," as he thumped the table with his hands, ba-da-dum, indicating his desire to get away.

At 9:54 he was back in his office for a meeting with a seven-member British delegation about environmental matters and funding to fight AIDS in Africa. He sat before his desk in a rocking chair facing a big clock and a painting of Union troops at Gettysburg. The Brits sat stiffly on upholstered chairs and a couch as Sir Michael Jay talked about energy efficiency, cleaner power, and climate change. Some of the visitors stole glances to the left at a big print of Hans Holbein's wonderful portrait of Thomas More (presented to the senator by the Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania) and to the right at small photos of the senator shaking hands with Bush 41 and Bush 43.

Through this the senator himself sat stolidly in his rocking chair, legs crossed and hand on chin, head cocked slightly to the right. Not until Sir Michael Jay spoke of Africa and AIDS did Mr. Santorum begin to rock and nod his head. He replied, "The climate change issue has not been an object of focus for me. . . . But I can't ignore the fact that 250,000 people are dying every month in Africa, and I'm glad the prime minister is making this a priority."

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