With Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank's retirement, Congress will lose arguably its most colorful, powerful, quotable characters. As expected, the news has longtime Capitol hands pulling out their best Frank anecdotes. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) regaled the news corps this morning with a few of her favorites – launching into a rare riff of storytelling.
Pelosi told of one of her early phone conversations with Frank, shortly after she arrived in the House in 1987. A fellow California lawmaker – former Orange County Rep. William Dannemeyer – made comments on the floor that Pelosi considered anti-gay, she said. She was outraged and wanted to talk to Frank, one of the first openly gay lawmakers, about what to do. He had no time for it.
"What are you calling me for? You have something to say, go down to the floor and say it. Why are you wasting my time?" Pelosi recalled Frank saying. From then on she learned to call Frank and talk in shorthand: "Barney, subject, question, timing, action. It really served me well for over 20 years."
The two developed a close relationship, Pelosi said. He liked to rip her for being one week older. He even commented on her style.
Pelosi told of her first time managing a bill as ranking member of the Foreign Operations Committee. She said she was excited and nervous – "To me, the most important place in the world was foreign ops" – and she put a new suit on for the occasion.
"So I got to the floor and the first person I see is Barney Frank who says, 'That suit, give it away,' " Pelosi recalled.
Frank is known for his cutting candor, but not his fashion sense. He's been described as looking like an "unmade bed," rumpled and untucked. Pelosi said that after the debate on the floor, the former committee chairman, the famously gruff Rep. David Obey, told her she could have been a little more diplomatic.
"This is really my day, I'm getting fashion advice from Barney Frank and diplomacy advice from David Obey," she said.