On Partisanship….

I think it is increasingly true that the parties are polarized and that they are uninterested in compromising. The staff is working heroically and maybe some of the members are, but I think it looks pretty grim. That was part of the reason I left.

At a certain point, you think of, “Why do I want to work 90 hours a week and not have a day off for weeks on end, when these people—the actual elected officials—are unwilling to spend the time and effort to actually solve the nation’s problems?”

My guy was willing, but he was rare.

Republican, Professional Committee Staff, United States Senate

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Senator Calls for Hot Women to Work on the Hill

Shapely Staffers

Certain headlines kind of date a story, no? I found this article digging through files in the Senate Historical Office. No clue where this story appeared, but we can make an educated guess about when. The article discusses Sen. Joseph Clark (D-PA) who was in office from 1959-1969, and once referred a proposal that the Senate hire attractive women as guides to the Joint Committee on Organization of Congress. This Committee was formed on three different occasions: 1945-1947, 1965-1966, 1991-1994.

So this article appeared sometime in ’65 or ’66.

Sen. Clark was a bit of a wild man and a liberal populist. He was also generally resentful of the Senate which he called a “self-perpetuating oligarchy.” According to his wiki, he was defeated in ’68 for opposing Vietnam and supporting gun control. The author James Michener ran his campaign that year.

Snippet from the article: “Work in a new Senator’s office, therefore, continues to be of poor quality.”

Click here to read a copy of the original document.

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Do Nothing Congress


Hey, I know everyone out there hates Congress, and that you guys think we don’t do anything. But here’s the deal, even when something does get done, it can take sooooooooo long to finish.

Case example: it took over five years from the time we had an idea, drafted a bill, and then enacted the law.

I wrote about this recently for the Edmond J. Safra Research Center at Harvard:

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Tips for Congressional Staffers: Why Are You Not Using Scout?

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 9.00.06 AM

I’ll ask the question again: why are you NOT using Scout? If you work on the Hill, tracking legislation, new amendments, or your boss’s speeches, you need Scout. If you work as a reporter, tracking Members, you need Scout. If you work at a nonprofit, tracking Members and new policy, you need Scout.

What can Scout do for you? Scout is a new product by the Sunlight Foundation, that let’s you search keywords in federal law, congressional speeches, federal regulations, and state laws. And after you enter your search terms, you can tell Scout to send you a daily email with a freshly updated search.

For my Life On The Hill project, I’m interested in learning everything about congressional staff. So I searched for “congressional staff” and got the legislation for the Stock Act, the law that makes insider trading illegal in Congress. But I also got speeches by Members praising their staff. For instance, last week Rep. Nancy Pelosi went to the floor to praise John Lawrence, who spent 38 years as a congressional staffer—30 years working for Rep. George Miller and 8 years as Ms. Pelosi’s assistant in the leadership office.

I’m also using Scout as a research tool for an article I’m writing for the Safra Center at Harvard. I’m writing a story on the history of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. When I put this phrase into the search, I was able to pull up the original bill and every speech in Congress that mentioned it.

[Continue Reading]

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US News Covers Life on the Hill

To try and get interviews, I placed ads on the pin boards in the House and Senate over the summer. I only got one interview, and a call from a reporter from US News who wrote this story:

Anonymous Hill Staffers To Reveal What Really Goes On Inside Congress

August 20, 2012 RSS Feed Print

Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.An investigative reporter wants to reveal what life is really like on Capitol Hill.

Think the revelations of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidentialwith the first-person interviewing style of Studs Terkel. Only the subject covered is the United States Congress.

Paul Thacker, a former Senate staffer and investigative journalist, is currently gathering 100 interviews with mostly current House and Senate staffers, from interns to chiefs of staff, about what life is like on Capitol Hill.

Read more

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The Putrid Nature of Hero Worship (with a break to play with kids)


Babysitting during interview

Not everyone I’m interviewing is here in DC. At times, I’ve taken trips to meet with former staff. In this case, I hopped the Amtrak to New York, then the subway to Brooklyn. And when you’re interviewing someone with children, discussions about Congress come second as you take a break to read a book.

Interview, Democratic Press Secretary:

There’s a spectrum of staffers. On one end, you have people who blindly love who they work for. And then, on the other end, you have people who, you know, have no loyalty to their bosses.  And both are very putrid. But I think the ones who are the most annoying have nothing but hero worship for their bosses.

And I’ve seen that a couple times with staff at the Senate Press Secretaries Association.

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Congress and Twitter: Staff Driven Crazy

Some elected officials should not be allowed to have twitter accounts. Staff need to step in and provide adult supervision.

Seriously. Just stop.

Asked if “Happy Valentines beautiful girl. ilu” was an odd private message for a much younger family friend, Pagan said, “I don’t think so. Not in my personal opinion.”

Congressman Steve Cohen’s Deleted Flirty Tweets From the State of the Union [Updated]

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Democratic Press Secretary: I Was Totally Faking It

Staffer holding recorder

A couple months back, I rode the metro out to Courthouse to interview a Democratic Senate Press Secretary. We met for brunch at Bayou Bakery, a great little place in Arlington with an incredibly eclectic atmosphere and excellent New Orleans inspired food.

The place was packed—line almost out the door—but we found a booth, and over beignets she began talking about her experiences on the Hill. After working for a couple years in the House, she moved over to the Senate, which she calls “the major leagues.” Only then, she says, did she find a trusted older colleague who taught her how to do her job.

Interview Democratic Press Secretary:

One of the first obvious reactions I had, which is not original, is how young everyone is. I don’t know if everybody else felt like they were faking it, but … TOTALLY I was.

I totally was faking it, when I started working on the House side. Luckily, it was pretty easy because I was working for a Freshman from a pretty safe district, so no one cared about anything she did.

It wasn’t like I was getting calls from reporters asking hard questions. Reporters almost never called. It was more press releases … a writing job. I’m writing press releases. I’m writing quotes. I’m writing … talking points, sometimes. Depending.

But, no … it was a good place to start because I had no idea what I was doing. And I think most people who are hired have no idea what they’re doing.

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When Senator Grassley’s Staff Tagged Menendez Staffers

This whole Menendez scandal is starting to spiral out of control. Just forget the problematic allegations of the “underage Dominican Republican prostitutes.” What has already been proven is bad enough.

Salon has a great little round up of the Senator’s escalating problems:

On Saturday, a New York Times editorial called on the New Jersey senator to hand in his Foreign Relations committee gavel while the Senate ethics committee investigates whether he exerted improper influence to help one of his top donors. On Sunday, his home state newspaper, the Star-Ledger, provided an exhaustive history of Menendez’s two-decade relationship with the donor, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, concluding that “when Melgen acts, Menendez reacts.” And this morning, the Times is reporting new details about the specific actions Menendez has taken on behalf of his benefactor.

If you think this is the first time that Senator Menendez has inappropriately contacted an agency on behalf of a benefactor, you’re wrong. A couple years back, investigators with Senator Grassley (my old shop) were looking into problems with devices that were going on the market over the protests of FDA reviewers. As the Wall Street Journal reported, it was “political lobbying” that was driving the scientific process inside the FDA to help a company based in New Jersey:

[Continue Reading]

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Alicia Menendez Writes on Scandal in a Politician’s Life (Will Senator Menendez Listen?)

How ironic. Just a few days ago, I wrote this article for Slate about the Senator Menendez and what must be going on in his office: So Your Boss Is Implicated in a Sex Scandal.

Come to find out, his daughter Alicia Menendez wrote a rather similar article last year, chock full of advice for people like her dad, Senator Robert Menendez

The story has been deleted from the website “Daily Grito” which she started with some friends, also posing as political insiders on Hispanic culture and politics. But I found an archived version on the Wayback Machine:

So you’ve found yourself embroiled in a scandal, huh? That must be pretty terrifying. I’m tempted to ask if you’ve done something wrong but if you’re anxious enough to be looking for advice on the internet, the chances are this is a pretty bad. Admitting that you’ve done something wrong is the first step. If you’re there, that’s half the battle.

You have to wonder whether the Senator is listening to “Bob’s daughter” as she refers to herself, in another article where she wrote about “the pain and pride of being a candidate’s child.” Again, archived version on the Wayback Machine.

Alicia has turned her born on third base luck into a lucrative career as a Huff Post pundit and advisor to liberal political orgs. She regularly pontificates on political issues, but she seems to be avoiding “Bob” in her stories and her twitter feed also makes no mention of “Bob.”

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