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Lies, betrayal and competition on the Hill as lawmakers deck the halls of Congress

Holiday decorations outside the office of Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Penn). Members of congress compete with each other for the best displays.
Becky Harlan
/
NPR
Holiday decorations outside the office of Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Penn). Members of congress compete with each other for the best displays.

A fierce debate is echoing through the halls of Congress, one that's pitting longtime colleagues against each other and bringing partisan divisions to a new high.

The debate: which lawmaker's office has the best office holiday decorations.

At the center of it all is Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo. Outside his doorway, there's a tiny radio playing Christmas music, and a giant inflatable snowman stands guard at the door, along with two paper nutcrackers.

Over the past few weeks, Perlmutter has stopped by offices throughout the second floor of the Longworth House office building and encouraged staff to get into the holiday spirit.

But things may have gotten out of hand. What started as friendly encouragement has turned chillingly competitive.

"This has gone crazy," Perlmutter told NPR, "but it's fun crazy."

Holiday decorations are set up outside several offices. A friendly competition is sparked each year between members of Congress.
/ Becky Harlan/NPR
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Becky Harlan/NPR
Holiday decorations are set up outside several offices. A friendly competition is sparked each year between members of Congress.

Mischief-maker-in-chief

Dozens of displays line the second-floor hallway with each seemingly more elaborate than the next. On top of holiday-themed inflatables, Santa hats and lights, most also feature decorations that pay homage to their congressional districts or state.

"This was just for fun. I didn't go in. I didn't instigate anything," Perlmutter said.

Despite the Colorado Democrat's declared innocence, a small sign in front of the office of Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., said otherwise.

It read "Christmas Cheer for Everyone! (Except Rep. Perlmutter)."

And it's not just Republicans who are pointing a finger at Perlmutter.

"Oh, he was talking trash from Day 1," said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., whose office is next to Perlmutter's. Her holiday decorations have a strong Keystone State vibe. It's hard to miss the inflatable Gritty (the Philadelphia Flyers mascot) standing by her door. Presents wrapped in paper from Wawa, a convenience store operated out of Pennsylvania, line the wall.

"He's the instigator," added Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. Like Bice, Bustos has called out the Coloradan by name in her office decorations. Her decorations include a letter to Santa, where she writes, "I hope I don't sound corny, but it'd be a-maize-ing to beat Ed Perlmutter's holiday decorations."

But it's not just about signs and wishes or even puns. As each office campaigns for the best display, holiday trickery runs rampant.

As the competition heats up, so do the high jinks

An inflatable snowman slowly deflates outside of Rep. Perlmutter's door. He has repeatedly accused Colorado Democrat Rep. Jason Crow of tampering with the snowman.
Becky Harlan / NPR
/
NPR
An inflatable snowman slowly deflates outside Rep. Perlmutter's door. He has repeatedly accused Colorado Democrat Rep. Jason Crow of tampering with the snowman.

Recently, the Christmas tree in front of the office of Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo, was decorated head to toe with pictures of Perlmutter.

The Perlmutter ornaments can now be spotted throughout neighboring displays as well.

Meanwhile, since the holiday office decorating tradition began in 2019, Perlmutter has repeatedly accused Crow of deflating Perlmutter's snowman.

Rep. Crow stands outside his office door, with the tree filled with photos of Rep. Perlmutter behind him.
Becky Harlan / NPR
/
NPR
Rep. Crow stands outside his office door with the tree filled with photos of Rep. Perlmutter behind him.

"They threatened to put up surveillance cameras," Crow told NPR, as Perlmutter's snowman simultaneously melted to the ground just a few feet away from him.

"They're going to keep on putting up defensive measures and I'll just keep finding ways around it. I can do this all day long," Crow added.

Next to Crow is the office of Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., whose display has also been fair game for some holiday trickery.

Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, of Wisconsin has a display featuring an American flag out of twinkle lights, an inflatable Miller Lite chair and a cutout of a cow wearing a Santa hat.
Becky Harlan / NPR
/
NPR
Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin has a display featuring an American flag made out of twinkle lights, an inflatable Miller Lite chair and a cutout of a cow wearing a Santa hat.

Gallagher's blow-up reindeer caught Crow's eye, so the Colorado Democrat decided to give it a new home — and a makeover.

Gallagher staffers Allison Aprahamian and Grace Paul were up in arms when they found their reindeer over by Crow's office.

"He put a team Crow T-shirt on it!" Aprahamian exclaimed.

"We have to take it back," added Paul.

If you think Crow, Gallagher, Perlmutter and their offices seem like a competitive bunch, well Bustos fits right in.

"Mike Gallagher should get last place. I should get first place," she said.

"When I see somebody who might have a little more bling and a little more lights and all of that — it's like, OK guys we gotta go out and add a little bit more," Bustos said.

"So ours keeps growing by the day," she added. Bustos also proudly shows off her inflatable Santa riding a John Deere tractor, a company headquartered in her district.

Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois stands next to her inflatable Santa driving a John Deere tractor outside of her office. The wall is adorned with paper cornstalks and snowflakes.
/ Becky Harlan/NPR
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Becky Harlan/NPR
Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois has an inflatable Santa driving a John Deere tractor outside her office. The wall is adorned with paper cornstalks and snowflakes.

"I do anticipate getting first place though in the contest," Bustos said.

Bustos even tried to get House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., involved by asking her to pick a winning display when she stopped by the floor's holiday party.

Walking through the hall with Perlmutter and a crowd of fellow lawmakers and staff, Pelosi saw nearly every display on the floor and tried her best to avoid picking favorites.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office is decorated for the holidays and has a paper golden gate bridge on either side of the door.
Becky Harlan / NPR
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NPR
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office is decorated for the holidays and has a paper Golden Gate Bridge on either side of the door.

"It's far too hard to tell," she said, knowing better than to get in the middle of this fight.

The speaker has an office on the floor as well. Her display included a paper cutout of the Golden Gate Bridge and some Ghirardelli chocolates. It was modest compared to the rest — or, as Pelosi described it, "tasteful."

(Clockwise from top left) Rep. Scanlon's office display features Gritty, A sign above the office of Rep. Bice, a paper fireplace is seen outside of Rep. Lamb's office and an inflatable dreidel outside of Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs of California.
Becky Harlan / NPR
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NPR
(Clockwise from top left) Rep. Scanlon's office display features Gritty; a sign above Rep. Bice's office door; a paper fireplace outside Rep. Lamb's office; and an inflatable dreidel outside the office of Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs of California.

Building camaraderie through competition

All of this competition, celebration and even trickery has a deeper meaning for Perlmutter.

"It's been a heavy year, you know, between COVID and the mob scene — on Jan. 6 — and just, it's been tough," he said.

He thinks this lighthearted informal competition, which took on a life of its own, eased tensions.

"This really has kind of broken down some barriers, which we need to do. I mean, Democrats and Republicans, you know, up and down these halls are having some fun and we needed this," he added.

Perlmutter was sure to preach bipartisan unity and holiday cheer up and down the hall — until others tried to press Pelosi into picking a winner.

Rep. Crow brings an inflatable reindeer into his office. The reindeer belongs to Rep. Gallagher's office.
Becky Harlan / NPR
/
NPR
Rep. Crow brings an inflatable reindeer into his office. The reindeer belongs to Rep. Gallagher's office.

"Cheri [Bustos] was urging her to pick a winner," Perlmutter told NPR the next day.

"And I said, well you know what, I'm the guy who's gonna pick the winner and I pick the Perlmutter office," he added.

Bustos cried foul over that decision.

Looks like the competition will continue in 2022.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.