Speaker snuffs out bastion of House smokers

Published January 11, 2007

WASHINGTON - Last week, Nancy Pelosi of California made history by becoming the first female speaker of the House. Wednesday, she made history again by banishing another vestige of the old days.

She banned smoking in the famously foggy Speaker's Lobby.

"I am a firm believer that Congress should lead by example," Pelosi said in her announcement.

The Speaker's Lobby, just off the House floor, is a respite of long, wooden tables, gilded trim and marble fireplaces where members can make deals and swap gossip. The cushy red leather chairs just cry out for a cigar.

If members must smoke, they may now do so out on the balcony, where temperatures yesterday were in the 30s, and where a knifing northwest wind made fingers ache in seconds.

Pelosi's new rule is apolitical - Democrats and Republicans alike light up in the lobby.

But purposefully or not, the edict is likely to be especially grating for the Republican leader, John Boehner of Ohio, a chain-smoker known for lighting up a Barclay as soon as he escapes the House floor.

Boehner was asked his reaction at a news conference.

"That's fine," he said curtly.

And how would it change his habit of ducking into the lobby for a smoke?

"It won't affect me at all," he insisted.

Then the news conference ended, and Boehner went for a smoke - outside, in the chilly wind.