Bringing Families Back to D.C.

By Kylie Jacobsen

Today, we had the opportunity to visit Senator Chuck Grassley’s office to speak with some of his staff members. James Rice, a legislative assistant, and Leah Shimp, Grassley’s D.C. scheduling assistant, are Drake alumni who were generous enough to talk to us about their roles in Grassley’s office and their careers. We discussed a variety of topics, such as the 99-county tour and Grassley’s unorthodox Twitter account. What most intrigued me about our discussion with Grassley’s staff was how elected representatives do not move their families to D.C. anymore; instead, they remain in their home state or district.

Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

According to Rice and Shimp, Congressional sessions now last for shorter periods of time than in the past. Generally, Senators and Representatives are now in session from Tuesday to Thursday, whereas in the past, they worked a typical work week with a Monday through Friday schedule. Because of this increased time available to Congress members and more efficient modes of transportation, it is much easier for them to travel to their home states and districts than previously.

A recent study observed a trend where there is a correlation between a Senator’s age and the number of trips home they take every year.

With senators not remaining in D.C. as often, it is also less common that their spouses and families move to D.C. nowadays, which is particularly the case with younger Senators. If senators can manage their time effectively and travel home during the weekends to visit and spend time with their families, is there really a need for their families to move to D.C.? Nowadays, that is not necessarily the case.

Although this is generally a phenomenon with newer senators, Grassley, who is currently 81 years old, finds the time to go home almost every weekend, according to Rice and Shimp. Shimp stated, “He would much rather spend time in Iowa than in D.C. He absolutely loves Iowa.” His staff also stated that when he was a younger Senator, he would visit his wife and children during the weekends on the family farm. Barbara eventually moved out to D.C., but Grassley never moved his family to Capitol Hill, making him an unusual case at the time.

Because Congress members do not spend nearly as much time on Capitol Hill and their families do not reside in the area either, there is far less social interaction between members than there used to be. When children of different members of Congress were friends in their schools, their parents would often interact with one another more frequently. Wives do not interact with one another as much as they used to, particularly since they are living in their home state instead.

When we spoke with Barbara Grassley on Tuesday, she prided herself on the fact that she is the president of the Senate Wives Club, which is a group of wives that socialize with one another, attend weekly lunches, and organize various events. She said that membership and involvement within the club is down in recent years compared to the past.

It does not seem that whether members of Congress live with their families in D.C. would matter in the political world. However, with less informal interaction between members of Congress, regardless of whether they are in the same political party or not, this may potentially have a greater impact than any of us would initially suspect. The ability to successfully network and interact with members of Congress effectively is an essential skill to possess. Could separating the families of members of Congress from D.C. have an unintentional effect of dividing Congress more? It is possible.

If a member of Congress has an interpersonal relationship with another Senator or Representative who is across the aisle, potentially, those two members might be willing to work together, despite ideological differences. Developing relationships not only between members of Congress, but between their spouses and families, could lead to more compromise between both parties. This could pave the way to more bipartisan solutions on Capitol Hill.

It is highly unlikely that the families of Representatives and Senators will be willing to move to D.C. for this specific reason. Regardless, it would be extremely fascinating to see if members of Congress would be more willing to compromise and act in a bipartisan manner if stronger interpersonal relationships existed between members.

Photo by Jill Van Wyke

Photo by Jill Van Wyke

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