Members of Congress struggle to answer the phone
The short version
As interest in the president’s cabinet appointments and Republican legislation goals has peaked, members of Congress are having difficulty keeping up with the volume of phone calls to both their Washington, D.C. and home district offices. Frequent posting of phone numbers on social media is credited with fueling the overwhelming influx of calls.
A little more detail
Freshman Congressmembers have it rough when they first get to Washington. Not only do they have to find and hire competent staff, their offices are initially located in the basement of the Capitol building in cramped quarters with people reaching over one another in their efforts to get anything done. There is a lot of information and policies and procedures to consume and absolutely no time for errors or mistakes, which means there is an abundance of errors and mistakes.
This year, however, an additional problem has been added: the phones won’t stop ringing. Literally. They don’t stop. Calls begin early in the morning, well before staffers arrive, and continue throughout the day until well after staffers are gone. The results are exhausted interns and staff aides who spend their days trying to move through the calls and record their issues as quickly as possible. Meals are taken at their desk and heaven help them if they need to do something marginally time-consuming, such as use the restroom.
The calls aren’t just limited to junior members, of course. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is having problems keeping up, and his office is huge by comparison. He told WHAS AM radio host Terry Meiners: “I appreciate many Kentuckians sharing their comments and for their patience with the jammed phone lines,” McConnell
“I appreciate many Kentuckians sharing their comments and for their patience with the jammed phone lines. I might suggest to people who’ve had that experience, the best way to contact me is online.”
Indeed, all members of Congress have online contact forms that are undoubtedly easier on the Congressperson’s staff than having to actually answer a phone. However, social media has large numbers of people convinced that a phone call carries more weight and gets more attention than do email. There is no statistical data to actually support that assertion, mind you, but the claim that the advice comes from a former congressional aide is enough to sway the actions of those who are freshly aware of their role in government.
Members of Congress are indeed noticing, and it’s making them a bit nervous. They all know that being labeled as unresponsive to their home constituents can kill their chances at re-election, which House members face every two years. Some members, such as Steve Daines, a rookie Republican Senator from Montana, are even picking up the phones themselves in an effort to let constituents know that their messages are being received.
Keith Barton, a professor of education at Indiana University, told the Associated Press: “I’m certainly seeing a lot of my teacher friends on Facebook who are politicized in ways that they never have been before. People who would have had liberal opinions, who might have liked something, but who now are writing and calling and emailing — things that they never would have done before. It’s been very striking just how politicized these middle-of-the-road kind of people are.”
All this activity has members of Congress slowing down and thinking a little more carefully on some of their previously stated plans, such as overturning the Affordable Care Act. Increasingly, conversations on Capitol Hill are turning more to talks of “repairing” the law rather than attempting to completely abolishing it.
Increased political activity on the part of constituents has also made party unity difficult and has slowed much of the momentum Congress seemed to have back in January. More bills are being taken back and re-written in an effort to ease constituent anxiety.
This continued and unrelenting effort speaks well for those who want to resist the 45th president’s administration. While congressional aides and interns are doing their best to answer every call possible, please note that the shorter the call, the better. Phone calls are not conducive to long conversations as aides are pressed to move on to the next call as quickly as possible. To the extent possible, phone calls should be limited to the following information:
- Your name
- Your phone number
- Your zip code (to confirm you are a constituent of that Congressperson)
- Whether you need a response
- Your issue, stated as briefly as possible.
We strongly suggest writing out what one is going to say so that the person on the other end is able to record your information and move on. If you are sent to voicemail, leaving a message there is just as effective.
Members of Congress are feeling the pressure from their constituents. Keep up the good work.