Robert Fischer Jr., Man of the House Cloakroom

Bob Fischer
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
Dec. 17, 2013, 2:40 p.m.

The House Demo­crat­ic cloak­room is an of­fice, re­fect­ory, and club­house. One side of the cham­ber is oc­cu­pied by 13 phone booths (fes­tooned with hol­i­day dec­or­a­tions), and the oth­er by sev­er­al rows of plush arm­chairs. In the middle is a kit­chen and snack bar, which dis­penses hot dogs and tuna-fish sand­wiches to mem­bers in between votes.

“It’s a place of busi­ness,” said Robert Fisc­her Jr., the cloak­room’s new man­ager. “My job is to make sure that mem­bers are able to do what they want to do. If they want to eat lunch, they can eat lunch. If they want to pre­pare for a speech that they’re about to give on the floor, they can do that, as well. I want people to be com­fort­able in there.”

The Demo­crat­ic cloak­room is only open to mem­bers and their top aides, which makes it a kind of sanc­tu­ary for law­makers used to be­ing ac­cos­ted by le­gions of re­port­ers in the halls of the Cap­it­ol. At any giv­en time, dozens of mem­bers may be milling around, shak­ing hands, read­ing, and re­hears­ing speeches with­in the con­fines of the L-shaped space. De­pend­ing on floor activ­ity, hun­dreds of Demo­crats may be in and out of the cloak­room with­in a 30-minute peri­od.

When not ply­ing mem­bers with snacks, Fisc­her mon­it­ors floor op­er­a­tions and no­ti­fies law­makers of up­com­ing votes. Sus­pen­ded over Fisc­her’s desk is a plac­ard with the words: “Gues­tim­ate for last vote.” Be­fore the ad­vent of C-SPAN, the cloak­room was a clear­ing­house for in­form­a­tion re­lated to le­gis­lat­ive activ­ity.

“We staff the mem­bers,” Fisc­her said. “When they come over here, they don’t have staff as­sist­ants, le­gis­lat­ive as­sist­ants, le­gis­lat­ive dir­ect­ors…. We try to make it easi­er for them, giv­en how un­pre­dict­able floor op­er­a­tions can be.”

Re­pub­lic­ans are al­lowed in the Demo­crat­ic cloak­room — but they gen­er­ally keep away un­less they are look­ing for a Demo­crat­ic col­league.

Fisc­her, 49, grew up in Buf­falo, N.Y., where his fath­er was a city fire­fight­er for 32 years. He stud­ied Eng­lish at the State Uni­versity of New York (Geneseo) and then was hired by the Buf­falo Sabres pro­fes­sion­al hockey team, where Fisc­her con­duc­ted in­ter­views in the lock­er room and wrote play­er pro­files for the fran­chise’s in-house magazine. He stayed with the team for about a year — and nev­er missed a game.

In the spring of 1987, Fisc­her was giv­en a tour of the Cap­it­ol by then-House Door­keep­er James Mol­loy, a fel­low Buf­falo nat­ive and fam­ily friend. Over lunch that same day, Mol­loy offered him a job. “It was lit­er­ally that simple,” Fisc­her said.

A year later, Fisc­her be­came an as­sist­ant to the House ser­geant at arms, which en­tailed “a lot of meet-and-greets” with vis­it­ing dig­nit­ar­ies and movie stars, he said. In 1993, Fisc­her was named as­sist­ant man­ager of the House Demo­crat­ic cloak­room by then-Speak­er Thomas Fo­ley. In the en­su­ing years, he was on hand for 21 con­sec­ut­ive State of the Uni­on ad­dresses and sev­en pres­id­en­tial in­aug­ur­a­tions.

One of the most mem­or­able mo­ments in Fisc­her’s ten­ure came in Janu­ary 2007, when Nancy Pelosi be­came the first wo­man to as­cend to the speak­er­ship. “I’m a fath­er with two daugh­ters,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of change over the last 20 years, but from the view that I have, it’s still amaz­ing. I doubt that there will ever be an­oth­er mo­ment in time with­in my em­ploy­ment in the House where something that huge will hap­pen.”

Fisc­her is mar­ried with three chil­dren and lives in Fair­fax, Va.

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