Potty Politics

updated 11/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

IN THE AUGUST HALLS OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, William Harvey Orton II and Elizabeth Greene Waldholtz are the freshest of freshmen, wide-eyed, uncynical and as yet uncorrupted by proximity to power. It's too early to figure out what they stand for—other than family values, of course—or which way they'll vote, but already they are having an impact on the men and women who make our laws. Wherever they go, hard-nosed horse traders of both parties stop in their tracks and turn to mush, cooing "Ooh!" and "Aah!" and "What a cute baby!" In the sharply polarized world of Washington politics, Will and Elizabeth enjoy true bipartisan support.

Will, 7 months old, is the son of Rep. Bill Orton (D-Utah), and Elizabeth is the 9-week-old daughter of Rep. Enid Waldholtz (R-Utah). They are already quite at home in Newt's sandbox, thanks to parents who believe in mixing parenting with politicking. "I hear personal attacks taking place on the floor of the House," says Orton, a third-term member of the Banking and Budget committees who represents Provo, "but when I have Will with me, it all melts. People come up to you; they're part of the human family."

And Waldholtz, a conservative Republican who serves on the powerful House Rules Committee, agrees, for once, with her middle-of-the road Democratic colleague. "I'm very grateful for the support here," she says. "I've gotten to know the people I work with as human beings. Having Elizabeth, and having her here, injects a little bit of a human face into Congress. We could use that around here."

Waldholtz, the first GOP congress-woman to come to term during her term in office (California Democrat Yvonne Braithwaite Burke gave birth to a daughter in 1973), has set up for the time being in a tiny second office—arranged by Speaker Gingrich—two floors below the House chamber and close to the elevators. Equipped with a sofa, refrigerator, TV and telephone, it allows her to nurse and still make it to the floor quickly when her vote is needed. (Her regular office, once occupied by Massachusetts Rep. John F. Kennedy, is a 15-minute, round-trip walk from the Capitol building.) She conducts meetings while Elizabeth drools peacefully in her crib. "I feel I've got two feet," says Waldholtz, 37, "one each in two very different worlds." (Waldholtz's husband, Joe, 32, a volunteer on her staff, shares baby-care responsibilities both at home in Salt Lake City and Washington and in the office. They also have a full-time, live-in nanny who also stays with Elizabeth at the office.)

Her first day back after having Elizabeth, Waldholtz says, showed her how the House has taken to being a home. "I'd gone to vote early in the day without Elizabeth," she says, "and people kept coming up to me—members of Congress, the security guards, elevator operators—saying, 'Where's the baby?' I finally had to say, I'll bring her over for the next vote.' "

"Now Elizabeth has 434 aunts and uncles, who want to help however we can," says Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), who is expecting the next House GOP baby in May. Molinari threw a surprise shower for Waldholtz—in Gingrich's office—when the Utah congresswoman was seven months pregnant. "We told Enid that the Speaker had called an emergency meeting of the Republican women," she says, "so she waddled on over."

Across party lines, Orton, 47, takes Will to work with him on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, as well as some mornings. Will plays and sleeps in his father's office; he even has been to a Whitewater-committee meeting. Orton's wife, Jacquelyn, 30, quit her job as a lobbyist to become a full-time mother, but Orton refuses to relinquish weekday parenting entirely. "The schedule here can drive your whole life," says Orton, "You don't have weekends, you don't have evenings. You are continually on the job. So if you allow your schedule to control your life, you won't know your children—you won't raise them, someone else will."

Of course catering to the needs of babies, constituents and fellow lawmakers can be stressful. "First of all," says Orton, "I always bring two of all his baby clothes and a full bag of diapers." Orton learned that lesson during one of Will's particularly messy attacks of diarrhea. As the congressman was giving him a bath in the sink in his office, an assistant announced the arrival of a constituent. "So I'm sitting there with this kid who's naked and I'm washing him, and Will is just laughing and enjoying himself," he says. "I had to call Jacquelyn and say, 'Quick! Bring clothes.' " Fortunately the Orton home is just four blocks from the Capitol.

As might be expected, Elizabeth and Will occasionally run into each other, giving their parents a rare opportunity to concur on at least one point: Having kids in Congress is a great idea—and a sobering one. "I would highly recommend that every legislator expand their family while they're in office so that they can really stay in touch with the priorities," says Orton.

Waldholtz agrees. "What we are doing right now," she says, "will determine what kind of opportunities my daughter will have."

MICHAEL NEILL
MARY ESSELMAN and SARAH SKOLNIK in Washington

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