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.
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."
At 10:14 the senator slipped into his seat on the dais in a committee hearing room; he offered a few sentences about the good work nonprofit organizations are doing and slipped out at 10:26 for a meeting of the eight members of the GOP Senate leadership team in Majority Leader Bill Frist's office-no reporters allowed. Afterwards he said the GOP leaders discussed big issues of the week-Social Security, judicial appointments, immigration-along with nuts-and-bolts aspects of bills on the floor and problematic amendments likely to be offered.
(The hardest nut to crack philosophically is immigration, and Sen. Santorum admits that he's torn on the subject: "I'm the son of an immigrant [from Italy], so I have some sense of that . . . we should increase the number who can come legally . . . we have to deal with national security concerns." He recognizes the impact that abortion has had in reducing the young population of the United States, and says, "It's hard to grow the economy with a shrinking number of people"-and immigration makes up for that gap.)
When the meeting ended at 11:53 he walked back to his own office and after 10 seconds asked his scheduler, "OK, where am I off to now?" One minute later he was listening to constituents hoping to sell food to the Department of Defense and wanting their senator's help in landing a contract. He asked, "What do you need? A letter of support?"
The response was immediate: "A strong letter of support."
He asked, "How much will this save the government?" and, after some numbers were thrown around, he responded, "OK, we'll see what we can do."
Ba-da-dum, time to move to another conference room and another topic: How about allowing more sales of Pennsylvania agricultural products to Cuba?
His response: "I'm not a big fan of that. . . . You're propping up a government that's hostile and spreading its hostility."
Ba-da-dum, but what about attaining "fair trade" through establishing more tariffs to protect Pennsylvania farmers?
Mr. Santorum replied, "You make it fair by having free trade in the region. That's free and fair." And he still could not get away: "Any chance to do a fundraiser in September in Lancaster?" Noncommittal response.
Next up were seven graduate students from Pennsylvania asking why Pennsylvania lags in business growth. The senator responded, "We have very high rates of taxation . . . a legal and regulatory climate that's very unfriendly . . . education needs to be improved."
To a question about the purpose of the federal government, Mr. Santorum replied, "Read the preamble to the Constitution. Provide for the common defense. That's first and foremost. Promote the general welfare: Government's job isn't to do it, but to create an environment in which others can work for the common good."
Ba-da-dum, ready to go, but 20 more graduate students suddenly crowded into the room and asked Sen. Santorum about his strong opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. He tried to take them back to basics: "The founders knew that when liberty is reduced to the issue of choice, it's reduced to license, and ultimately there's chaos." He moved his hands back and forth like trees blowing in a gale. "If you just do what you want to do, you're ultimately going to hurt other people. . . . Anything you do, you're imposing your moral code. . . . To suggest that the freedom to have an abortion is not imposing a worldview is laughable."
Ba-da-dum, and he was outside the conference room asking his scheduler, "Where am I supposed to go?"
At 12:36 he was late for a nine-year-old prayer-and-accountability group meeting at Trent Lott's office with three other senators. The issues discussed are "very personal . . . we try to keep politics out." But in the corridor the graduate students wanted a photo of him with all of them, and after a few seconds of milling about-how to fit in everyone-the senator took charge: "Let's have five guys in front take a knee . . . tall ones in back."
That done, Mr. Santorum raced off to prayer and then a policy lunch with all the Republican senators and a few senior staff members in the Mansfield Room of the Capitol. There politics was most definitely in and Social Security the entree. At 2:15 he patiently answered "stakeout" questions in the corridor before three television cameras, five microphones, 10 print reporters, and bright lights that contributed to a sheen of sweat on strands of hair curling behind the senator's ears.
Then it was on to a 90-minute whirlwind of more meetings, greets, and drop-bys.
One Pennsylvania contingent that resembled the Lollipop Guild of Oz said, "We want to thank you for your support. . . . We as partners want to partner with government so we can provide appropriate services." (Response: "Let me know about the legislation. Sounds like something I can support." Ba-da-dum.)
Another visitor spun a tale of Washington outrage, to which the senator replied, "That's how bureaucracies function. . . . Makes me ashamed to be part of the federal government." Ba-da-dum.
One of his last "greets" was with an opponent of legislation that would allow religious anti-poverty groups to hire only within their own religion and still be eligible for federal funding. Sen. Santorum retorted, "Religious freedom is a higher order of freedom than economic freedom. If we restrict the belief rights of organizations, we're putting economic rights above them." Asked why anti-poverty workers in these groups need to express their beliefs, he responded, "Why should we deprive them of using the medicine that will heal people?"
Then it was downstairs to the Senate barbershop and WORLD's questions about why faith-based-initiative legislation for four years has stalled in the Senate. Would a tax credit emphasis rather than a grants-making approach work better? "Sure, tax credits are the most efficient way to get it done," he said, "but Democrats want tax increases and the government making grants . . . and Republicans don't like tax credits because they complicate the tax code . . . and a lot of the nonprofits don't want a special credit to help the poor-everyone wants it to help their program, they say what they're doing is just as important as helping the poor."
How can Christians be more effective in defending marriage? "We can't go around and speak against same-sex marriage without talking about the divorce culture," he said. "Anytime I speak in front of any groups, I always say we need to talk about first things first. Marriage is in trouble because of divorce. We've turned marriage into something about adults, not kids."
And what about last year's Senate campaign, when Mr. Santorum angered many conservatives by backing social liberal Arlen Specter over conservative Pat Toomey in the Republican primary? "Two words: fifty-five."
Mr. Santorum argued that the GOP achieved that senatorial number by "minimizing our tough races in blue states. We didn't spend a penny of national funds in Pennsylvania, and that allowed us to use those resources in South Dakota" and other close states. He acknowledged that Mr. Toomey might have been able to win, but "the resources we would have had to expend would have been enormous."
At 4:36, haircut done, Mr. Santorum headed for his last three scheduled appointments for the day and then to the Senate floor for debate about Social Security. He usually leaves for home around 6:30 p.m., driving himself and wearing a telephone headpiece that allows him to return calls that have come in throughout the day; a staffer at the office does the dialing.
Then he has family time. The six Santorum children stay up to 10 or 11 p.m. because Karen Santorum homeschools them and allows them to get up much later than their dad.
But on this day, with a trip to Rome for Pope John Paul II's funeral coming up soon, he didn't leave until 9:30 and didn't get home until 10:30, nearly 18 hours after he had left. "Not exactly a family-friendly job," he said wryly, "but if you're a football player every play may be your last. I'm here to serve. I have no problem getting out of bed every morning."