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Encore: Lies, betrayal and competition as lawmakers deck the halls of Congress

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Rivalry, intrigue, competition on Capitol Hill. The source of this divide? Which lawmakers office has the best holiday decorations. Here's NPR's Elena Moore.

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: On the second floor of the Longworth House office building, there's some intense campaign strategizing going on. And it's got nothing to do with the 2022 midterms.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RING CHRISTMAS BELLS")

THE RAY CONNIFF SINGERS: (Singing) Ring Christmas bells, merrily ring...

MOORE: A tiny radio playing Christmas music sits in front of Congressman Ed Perlmutter's office, a Democrat from Colorado. A giant inflatable snowman stands guard at his door. See - Perlmutter is vying for a new role these days, becoming the top lawmaker with the best holiday decorations. But he's got a lot of competition.

ED PERLMUTTER: This has gone crazy, but it's fun crazy.

MOORE: Over a dozen offices are engaged in a chillingly competitive campaign. Lights, inflatables and decorations line this hallway. It may have gotten out of hand, in large part because of Perlmutter.

PERLMUTTER: This was just for fun. I didn't go in. I didn't instigate anything.

MOORE: But a sign in front of Oklahoma Republican Congresswoman Stephanie Bice's office says otherwise. Good cheer for everyone, it reads, except Rep. Perlmutter. That's because there has been some trickery going on. Recently, the Christmas tree in front of Congressman Jason Crow's office, a Democrat from Colorado, as well, was magically decorated with pictures of Perlmutter. Score one for Perlmutter. On top of that, someone just keeps deflating Perlmutter's snowman.

JASON CROW: I can do this all day long.

MOORE: Point Crow. Next to Crow is the Office of Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin. The Republican has a Yoda in a Santa costume and a blow-up chair with empty six packs of Miller Lite resting on it. But one thing caught Crow's eye, Gallagher's blow-up reindeer. The Coloradan might have put his own mark on it. Gallagher's staff sees it when they reclaim their Rudolph.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You put a Team Crow T-shirt on it? Well, I mean...

MOORE: That's another point to Crow. If he seems competitive, down the hall is Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, a Democrat from Illinois.

CHERI BUSTOS: When I see somebody who might have a little more bling, a little more lights and all of that, it's like, OK, you guys, we got to go add a little bit more. So ours keeps growing by the day.

MOORE: She's got homemade cornstalks taped to the walls, along with cutouts of farm animals and reindeer. There's also an inflatable Santa riding a tractor.

BUSTOS: I do anticipate getting first place, though, in the contest.

MOORE: Bustos even tried to get House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pick a winning display when she stopped by a holiday party held in the hallway.

NANCY PELOSI: Oh, it's just far too hard to tell.

MOORE: Pelosi walked by nearly every display on the floor. But still, even she knows better than to get in the middle of this fight. At the end of the tour, Hawaii Congressman Kai Kahele and his staff serenaded the crowd with a rendition of "Mele Kalikimaka."

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas day...

MOORE: To Perlmutter, all this celebration has a deeper meaning.

PERLMUTTER: It's been a heavy year. And 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.

MOORE: It's all about unity and getting along until Perlmutter is asked the next day if Pelosi crowned a winner.

PERLMUTTER: You know what? I'm the guy who is going to pick the winner, and I pick the Perlmutter office.

MOORE: Bustos disputes that call. I guess the fight continues. Elena Moore, NPR News, Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) A very Merry Christmas, a very Merry Christmas to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elena Moore is an editorial assistant for NPR's Washington Desk working as the researcher for the 2020 campaign. She previously worked at NBC News and is also a proud former Washington Desk intern. Moore is a graduate from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y.

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