About two dozen of the 27 freshmen Democratic representatives are drifting in for an unappetizing breakfast in Room B 369 of the Rayburn House Office Building. It's Jan. 21 and they have been on the job for about two weeks. McMillen is among the last arrivals, having come from a 7 a.m. workout in the House gym.
Some of the congressmen are tall, though none as tall as McMillen. Some are gray, though none as prematurely gray as McMillen. Some are strikingly handsome, though none as handsome as McMillen. A clerk whispers to a bystander: "These the new congressmen, right? I saw that tall guy with the gray hair who used to play basketball. Can't miss him. And then there's the new Kennedy. It's Ted, right?"
No, it's Joe. He's another one you can't miss. Joe Kennedy and Tom McMillen. Can't miss them. One carries a weighty legacy on his back, the other an aura about his whole being. If McMillen has one natural advantage, it's that he looks important. Of all the members of the Jock Caucus, McMillen is the one who will get the second, third and fourth glance. In politics, that can't hurt.
McMillen's long strides eat up the distance between the Rayburn Building and his office on the fifth floor of the adjoining Longworth House Office Building. Almost as soon as people turn around and open their mouths' to say, "Hey, aren't you...?" McMillen is by them. One resourceful custodian steps in his path to take the charge. "Can you still hit the jumper?" he asks. McMillen smiles and says, "Haven't tried lately."
Actually, he has. McMillen recently played in his first pickup basketball game in the House gym, and he plans to play as often as possible. The standing joke around Congress is that Bill Bradley never joined in these games until his tax reform bill was in trouble. "Then he came down and gave it up a few times," said McMillen.
For the most part, though, McMillen seems determined to put basketball behind him. Don't even bother to engage him in conversation about the NBA because he hasn't kept up. He has attended only a few Bullets games this season. His red, white and blue Bullet jersey (No. 54) is displayed in a glass case on his office wall, but, he insists, "it's coming down." A ball inscribed with the date on which McMillen scored his 5,000th NBA point (Dec. 6, 1984) rests on a shelf. He finished with 5,914 points, some 30,000 fewer than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has so far.
Because of his height, it's going to be a long time before people stop viewing McMillen as an ex-jock. As he heads for a House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee meeting, he encounters Alan Simpson, a Republican senator from Wyoming. The 6'6" Simpson is used to standing tall in Congress, but McMillen towers over him. Need it be said that McMillen is the tallest lawmaker in U.S. history?
McMillen takes his seat in the committee meeting next to Joe Kennedy. "Anyone who is familiar with professional basketball will recognize our next new member," intones committee chairman Fernand J. St Germain of Rhode Island as he introduces McMillen. Then St Germain turns his attention to Kennedy. "If there is anyone about whom it can truly be said that he needs no introduction...," he begins. McMillen and Kennedy. You can't miss them.
McMillen's staff is convinced, however, that McMillen is the leader of the freshman class. "Tom is the thoroughbred,' " says Jonathan P. Yates, his legislative director. That opinion is obviously biased, but a few days of tailing McMillen around Washington does nothing to contradict it. He has the recognition factor of. say, a four-term senator. And though he's an ex-jock, the Rhodes scholarship has given him intellectual credibility, just as it did for Bradley. Moreover, the pooh-bahs in the Democratic Party seem to be rooting for McMillen, no doubt because of his attractiveness as a high-profile candidate. New representatives must lobby the veterans for committee appointments, but McMillen got both of those he sought (the banking post and another on Science, Space and Technology). That's rare for a rookie.
As McMillen heads out the door of the Rayburn Building, bound for the inauguration of Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer in Annapolis, he encounters John Glenn, the senator from Ohio. "Hey, kid, how you doing?" says Glenn. "Haven't seen you since the election. Everything all right?" McMillen stops to chat with Glenn. The senator, figuring that McMillen had the right stuff, had campaigned for him in Maryland.