President Clinton may want to invite Tony Morella and Jim Schroeder to a White House coffee klatch.
If first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton wins her tight New York Senate race, they could give Mr. Clinton some firsthand pointers on what it’s like as a congressional spouse the “back-seat” role he hopes to assume after two decades in the driver’s seat.
“We respectfully and dutifully walk three paces behind our spouses at all times,” joked Mr. Morella, who is married to Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican.
“You could be scrutinized, criticized and detract from your spouse’s career if you get involved in certain kinds of things,” cautioned Mr. Schroeder, whose wife, Patricia Schroeder, served as a longtime Democratic congresswoman from Colorado.
The two male congressional spouses could also help Mr. Clinton choose which congressional spouses clubs to join.
Although Mr. Clinton has said he would like to attend meetings of the “Senate Spouses Club,” he might feel more comfortable at the Congressional Club, where Mrs. Clinton already is a member.
As first lady, she received a lifetime honorary membership in the 91-year-old bipartisan institution that was chartered by Congress to foster friendship among House and Senate wives.
“We do try to keep the R’s and the D’s out of the whole thing,” said Republican member Sandie Knollenberg.
Mrs. Knollenberg, the wife of four-term Michigan Rep. Joe Knollenberg, also presides over the Republican Congressional Spouses Club, which has about 300 members husbands and wives of senators, representatives and former lawmakers.
“He is definitely not going to join our club,” she said with a laugh.
The Congressional Club welcomes almost 800 members at its stately gray-brick headquarters at 2001 New Hampshire Avenue NW. It now accepts spouses, ex-spouses, daughters, daughters-in-law, and sons and sons-in-law of members of Congress, along with the spouses of Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.
Few men show up at its weekday luncheons.
“As much as I would love for them to come and I have tried it is difficult for a man to come to a room full of women,” said club President Lois Breaux, who is married to Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat.
The club does lure a lot of men to some charitable functions and high-profile events, such as its annual First Ladies Luncheon. When Mrs. Clinton appeared there this spring, Mrs. Breaux handed her a membership form for her husband.
If Mr. Clinton joined the club, he could eventually become its president, “but he would have to work his way up the ladder,” like everyone else, by first serving as a committee chairman, Mrs. Breaux said.
It could prove a little embarrassing for the president if he became a club officer. Unless the club changed the way it lists officers on its letterhead, he might appear as “Mr. Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
Customs have changed since John Langley, husband of Kentucky Republican Katherine Gudger Langley, became the first man married to an elected congresswoman in 1927. But it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the Republican, Democratic and other congressional “wives clubs” began changing their names to “spouses” clubs to accommodate the growing number of men.
Many of the current 44 male spouses avoid club regular events because they are typically geared toward non-working wives.
“I’m not too big on fashion shows,” said Mr. Morella, a law professor at American University.
While Mr. Clinton may or may not enjoy the fashion shows, the lifelong pol may not be able to resist attending future State of the Union addresses. If he were treated as an ordinary congressional spouse, he would have to watch it from the spouses gallery with the other husbands and wives.
“I sit in the same row as Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Morella said.
At some parties where Mrs. Clinton would sit at the head dinner table, Mr. Clinton could be shunted to a rear table, left to swap stories with other spouses and their children.
“If you get close to the kitchen, the food is hot when it gets to you,” Mr. Morella said.
Congressional spouses have to avoid certain pitfalls, Mr. Schroeder, a deputy undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture, noted.
“If you become a lobbyist, for example, or you’re representing certain kinds of clients before Congress or involved in controversial business ventures, those are the kinds of things that can detract from your spouse’s career,” he said.