Inside the GOP's playhouse: Behold, the most important place in all of Republicandom

This posh, Republican-only Washington, D.C. club is where conservatives go to unwind, raise cash and make deals

Published September 27, 2016 10:58PM (EDT)

The following is adapted from "The Beltway Bible: A Totally Serious A-Z Guide to Our No-Good, Corrupt, Incompetent, Terrible, Depressing and Sometimes Hilarious Government," published on September 27 by St. Martin’s Griffin.

When we think of the modern Republican party, a handful of locales tend to flicker into our minds: George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch, the main stage at CPAC, Kennebunkport, Dick Cheney’s undisclosed bunker and Scott Brown’s finished basement where he’s been studiously building the world’s largest beeramid for several decades.

OK, maybe not that last one, but we often overlook what is arguably the right’s most important gathering place: the Capitol Hill Club. The Capitol Hill Club — a posh, Republican-only establishment one block from the Capitol — is where your most cynical prejudices about Washington come true. For decades, it has served as a retreat for GOP lawmakers, lobbyists, businessmen, and fellow travelers seeking to escape the media’s glare and the daily grind of legislating. It’s no mistake that the Capitol Hill Club sits right next door to the Republican National Committee. This place is where thousands of awful Hollywood treatments of Washington are born . . .

Scene opens on a luxurious restaurant filled with well-besuited men and elegant women. The sound of a string quartet is heard above the din of hushed conversations and clinking silverware. Servers in starched shirts and black vests scurry to and fro. Cut to two men seated at a table in the corner.

LOBBYIST: Well, Congressman, do we have a deal? [Lobbyist places metallic briefcase on table and opens it with two audible clicks. The briefcase is filled with money.]

CONGRESSMAN: [Lifts wine glass.] Sir, you have yourself a golf course!

LOBBYIST: [Lifts wine glass.] I guess the rare-spotted heron will have to find a new home!


[A server appears, pushing a cart with an ornate silver cloche atop it. He removes the cloche to reveal a steaming rare spotted heron with an apple in its mouth.]

CONGRESSMAN: Excellent! Dinner is served!

OK, it’s not that bad, but it’s not that much of a stretch, either. In his excellent 2008 dispatch from the club in Harper’s, Ken Silverstein described being approached by a decidedly relaxed John Boehner, who proceeded to tell the author’s companion about meetings he had held with officials from the Kazakh government.

Truly, few locales in the political world serve so many disparate factions of the GOP the way the Capitol Hill Club does. When rapprochement was sought between Donald Trump and congressional Republicans wary of his populist bluster, a meeting was held at the Capitol Hill Club. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address to Congress over the objection of the White House, Lindsey Graham whisked casino magnate and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who had attended the speech, to the Capitol Hill Club for a fundraiser benefitting his short-lived presidential campaign.

Indeed, the Capitol Hill Club is also one of the most popular spots for hosting fundraisers, both for lawmakers and candidates who pilgrimage to Washington. Its calendar is filled with shindigs like “Happy Hour for Congressman Steve Scalise,” “Beer and Popcorn End-of-Quarter Happy Hour in Support of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick,” and “Oil and Gas Industry Breakfast with Congressman Lee Terry."

The Club also plays host to a number of community events each month, like screenings of major sporting events, wine tastings, holiday parties, dances, and pumpkin-carving contests. Particular favorites were, “Single-Malt Scotch Class: A Tasting” and “The New Lobbying and Ethics Law: Know Enough NOT to Be Dangerous.”

Club boosters can purchase Capitol Hill Club-branded merchandise, like Capitol Hill Club mouse pads, Capitol Hill Club baby clothes (“ONESIES for Future Members!”), and Capitol Hill Club golf polos. Also for sale are luxury items like a Capitol Hill Club broad clutch and a Capitol Hill Club silk scarf, which is advertised as being made in France (one would assume that it would be rebranded a “freedom muffler,” but alas).

The Club was founded in 1950 by New Jersey congressman James C. Auchincloss who, along with a hundred other members, opened the first clubhouse in 1951, several blocks away from its current location. The club relocated once before settling on its current location at 300 First Street SE. Members with questions about appropriate club behavior are advised to consult the Club’s rules, a sample of which is listed below (really):

RULE: “IV. Employees shall not be sent out of the Club on private business.”

TRANSLATION: Like your interns, the staff is young, frightened, and dressed in cheap button-down shirts, but it doesn’t mean they’ll fetch your laundry.

RULE: “No gratuity of any kind shall be given to an employee by any member or guest.”

TRANSLATION: “Listen”— [looks at name tag]— “Jose. I graduated HBS and made it to senior vice president at Caldwell and Griswold Capital Management without getting tipped once. Suck it up.”

RULE: “No member shall carry on or transact any business or indulge in the practice of any profession in the Club at any time.”

TRANSLATION: “Just kidding, totally ignore this rule.”

By Eliot Nelson

Eliot Nelson is a political reporter and editor at The Huffington Post’s Washington, D.C. bureau where he covers campaigns, Congress and the intersection of culture and politics. He is the author of HuffPost Hill, a daily humorous political tip sheet with over 250,000 subscribers both inside and outside the Beltway. His book "The Beltway Bible: A Totally Serious A-Z Guide to Our No-Good, Corrupt, Incompetent, Terrible, Depressing and Sometimes Hilarious Government" is published by St. Martin’s Griffin.

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