A Look At Likely Pick For National Security Adviser
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Many members of Congress leave office to become lobbyists. Chellie Pingree is doing it the other way around. Pingree was a lobbyist. Now she's a congresswoman-elect from Maine. While her fellow freshmen and freshwomen look for apartments and sometimes basic directions around D.C., Pingree is getting used to approaching Capitol Hill from a different direction, as NPR's Audie Cornish reports.
AUDIE CORNISH: With her red hair and blueberry coat, Chellie Pingree stands out in a sea of gray, brown, and black winter Capitol Hill wear. She's walking and talking briskly from a freshman seminar at the Library of Congress to her temporary office a few blocks away.
CHELLIE PINGREE: So, I'm headed to Rayburn, and we can walk outside or inside.
CORNISH: Whichever you're more comfortable with.
PINGREE: Let's try this because I'm not sure once I get inside that I'll know which way to go.
CORNISH: Before winning the seat from Maine's 1st Congressional District, Pingree was president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan citizens' lobby group. So you would think she'd have the edge over her congressional classmates when it comes to finding her way around the Capitol. That's not the case.
PINGREE: Yeah, well, it's a little different. Maybe if I'd lobbied, you know, for three years for the oil industry or the pharmaceutical manufacturers, I'd know a little more. But I was at a low-budget lobbyer, so.
CORNISH: Not that low budget. Common Cause is a multimillion-dollar organization that lobbies for stronger campaign finance rules and more ethics reform. Pingree headed the organization at the height of the scandals involving former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. So, what will it be like for Pingree to go from watchdog to watched?
PINGREE: I definitely was a part of changing some of the rules that not everybody likes, and probably I won't like them all either now that I have to follow them. But, you know, these are things that the country wants, and frankly I'm very interested in things like public financing or ways to go about doing even more.
CORNISH: Pingree says this week she's found herself in casual conversation with people that she might never have gotten into the room with before. And that's why she decided to run in the first place.
PINGREE: So I've been lobbying members of Congress on a variety of things, many of them which they didn't want to change. And I thought I could keep lobbying other people to vote the way I want or I could actually come here and cast the vote myself and also attempt to talk to my colleagues from the inside.
CORNISH: Once we reach her makeshift office, Pingree gets down to business conferring with her sole staff member and double checking her schedule.
PINGREE: So now that it's almost our last day here, we have a very efficient schedule of where to be.
Unidentified Woman: Yeah.
CORNISH: The congresswoman-elect is ambitious enough to want a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee where few freshmen serve. Barring that, she said she'd love to work on anything that has to do with alternative energy - that would help Maine's fledgling wind power industry - or maybe the Armed Services Committee, or perhaps she'd work on fixing up the nation's roads and bridges.
PINGREE: I want to fix it all, you know.
CORNISH: But Pingree says she knows Congress. And especially Democrats have their work cut out for them.
PINGREE: I think the mandate for Democrats is to accomplish something. I think people are so frustrated with the kind of politics that just doesn't move, doesn't fix anything, doesn't listen to them. And they want to see this Congress and this president get something done.
CORNISH: And judging from last week's lame-duck session, that won't be easy. Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.