- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used her new power yesterday to single-handedly snuff out the practice of smoking inside a plush room in the U.S. Capitol, ending a long tradition in the interest of health.

“The days of smoke-filled rooms in the United States Capitol are over,” the California Democrat said, instituting a policy that many expected.

Mrs. Pelosi, whose home state has long prohibited smoking indoors, banned smoking inside the exclusive Speaker’s Lobby, an unventilated room adjoining the House chamber where members have puffed cigarettes, cigars and pipes for 200 years.

As speaker, J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, allowed smoking inside the room despite an indoor-smoking ban across the District. No smoking is allowed on the Senate side of the Capitol.

Smokers from both parties yesterday shrugged off the decision as inevitable, heading to the room’s outdoor balcony with a bright attitude.

“It’s warm out there,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, Idaho Republican.

Mr. Simpson called the ban a “good idea,” because “people shouldn’t have to put up with it.”

Mrs. Pelosi said secondhand smoke puts visitors at a serious health risk. The private room on the Capitol’s second floor often is filled with teenage pages, reporters and staff members.

“As members of Congress, we must be held to a higher standard,” she said.

Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, a smoker most frequently seen enjoying a Barclay in the lobby, had little to say.

“That’s fine,” said the man once known as the smoker in chief.

Asked at a Republican press conference whether any discussion was raised about the decision during the caucus meeting, he said: “No.”

Asked whether he would smoke less or protest the change: “It won’t affect me at all.”

He ended the press conference abruptly, muttering as he walked away: “I knew that was coming.”

Reporters swarmed the smokers throughout the day, and most of the lawmakers donned big smiles that go along with a bipartisan spirit, noting that they can still smoke in their private offices.

Some reporters lamented that it will be tougher to encounter those members, who will have less reason to leave the private chamber.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican, called the change ironic.

“I find it interesting the first thing we have conclusively banned in the 110th Congress is a perfectly legal and heavily taxed exercise,” he said.

The air was clear in the room yesterday, and some members noticed that the thick haze was gone.

“This was the last vestige of smoking in a public place,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat. “She made the right decision.”

The issue arose in July when The Washington Times asked Mrs. Pelosi, then minority leader, whether the smoky room bothered her.

“I didn’t know that this was an issue, but I certainly wouldn’t bring my grandchildren in there,” she said at the time.

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