Vice President Joe Biden offered returning federal workers handshakes, hugs, and kisses -- and muffins, too -- this morning at the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
As pool awaited the VP, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy hopped – literally, hopped – as she entered the building and then headed to greet him at a back entrance far from pooler’s view.
Pool first spotted VP at about 9:17 am, rounding the corner from the back entrance, finding a cluster of workers who caught wind of his visit. He carried a few containers of “Coffee Cake Bites” – apparently $5 each per the sticker, and “Baked from scratch” with no trans fats.
“I brought some muffins!” the VP said as he arrived at the security desk, placing the muffins down. And, seeing a sign on the desk that read that “All visitors must be escorted at all times,” VP announced: “I’d like to be escorted!”
TV pooler quickly asked the VP, “Are you happy with how the deal played out?” He answered: “I’m happy it’s ended. It was unnecessary to begin with. I’m happy it’s ended.”
He then immediately began shaking hands with employees, lined up out the entrance. The usual Biden stuff – some handshakes, some hugs, some kisses. Told some he was sorry they had to miss work and “had to go through all that.” There were occasional bursts of applause as more people arrived and found the VP there.
Most of the VP’s greetings were simple and straightforward. One mentioned it was her birthday, earning her a special birthday welcome. Another arrived wheeling a small suitcase. “Is that all the work that piled up?” VP asked the woman. “Yes it is. I was very tempted to do it,” the woman said.
During a lapse in the line VP turned to the pool and made the remarks sent earlier. And then returned to glad-handing.
At first, the muffins VP brought remained on the counter behind him but eventually Administrator McCarthy held them to offer them to staff. “Would you like a muffin? The vice president brought some muffins,” McCarthy said. VP, seeing how long the line of employees, worried: “I didn’t bring enough muffins!”
But enough about the muffins, folks.
Around this point, something of a photo line developed as everyone with an iPhone asked to take a picture with him. VP enlisted his able body man to handle photo duty.
McCarthy was also warmly greeted by a number of employees. “Settle in, get busy,” she said at one point.
At 9:33 am the pool was escorted out of the building back to our van, where we returned to the White House separate from the VP motorcade. We ended up being held at the southeast entrance by said motorcade.
While waiting for VP, pool spoke with Barbara Bruce, an EPA employee for 38 years who was waiting at the entrance to meet the VP. She had also experienced the last shutdowns of the mid-‘90s.
“I think the last shutout [sic] I wasn’t that concerned about being off for the two weeks. But this one I was a little worried because there was so much friction going on between the two parties. But I am happy that they resolved their problems and I am truly glad to be back.”
She noted she has only a few more years to work before she’s eligible to retire.
“I think the morale is much better today. I’ve seen a lot of my coworkers and everybody’s upbeat and everybody’s glad to be back.”
She says the shutdown was not a hardship for her but she had friends and family for whom it was. “My husband is retired so I had a little cushion to fall back on,” she said. “But I was concerned about my other fellow coworkers. I think after this duration I’m hoping and praying that they will come to a resolution beyond January the 15th, that we wouldn’t have to go through this again.
She said she didn’t learn that she was coming back to work until she woke up this morning. “I wasn’t sure we were supposed to report back today or tomorrow. And so I immediately went on to the OPM website and they said, ‘All federal workers report back today.’ So I got dressed real fast and I ran and got to work.”
Pooler also spoke briefly with McCarthy and asked her about the impact of the shutdown on her agency.
“We had about 94% of our staff out so that’s a pretty big hardship for us,” she said. “I think the most important thing for the staff was they actually want to work. I gave a call to a few folks while they were out and they were just dying to get back to the job. So their basic hardship they know they do such important work and they just wanted to get to it. That’s why today’s a real celebration for us.”