While people often complain about a Do-Nothing Congress, massive staff reductions inside the Capitol could make that truer than ever before.
The day-to-day business of congressional offices and committees — from constituent service to hearings and investigations — is largely on hold, as House Republicans and Senate Democrats stalemate over a budget agreement.
Many offices are running with only a fraction of their usual staff, forcing lawmakers to prioritize what gets done and employees to struggle against gargantuan workloads.
“The enemy of productivity is fear and anxiety,” said Robert Tobias, a professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs. “It’s very difficult to get anything done when you’re stretched thin and anxious about whether you are going to be paid.”
Scenes of exactly that played out all over the Capitol, as lawmakers revealed how their offices and committees would manage the shutdown. The choice of who is deemed essential and who is furloughed is left to each individual member. The same goes for committees, where the chair and ranking member decide.
According to guidance issued by the House Administration Committee, essential employees are those whose jobs are “associated with the constitutional responsibilities, the protection of life, or the protection of property.” There is no requirement as to how many employees each office needs to furlough, although offices do incur a debt for staff work, which will presumably be paid once the government is funded again.
Lawmakers addressed the situation differently. Offices for Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Chris Murphy, for example, had signs up saying they were closed, with phone numbers to call. Others, such as that of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., were open with some staff inside.
Committees, too, were a mixed bag. The House Oversight Committee continued with its scheduled hearing Tuesday, which turned out to be first day of the shutdown. But the House Judiciary Committee postponed full committee markups and Immigration Subcommittee hearings.
One common complaint was how to address the large volume of calls and constituent mail that comes in daily. “Productivity has suffered,” said one Senate aide, whose office shrank from 29 staffers and interns to just eight. “Letters aren’t getting responded to and are piling up. We’re monitoring phone messages, but we’re not answering the phones.”
In some cases, however, the lack of staff made for good optics. Sen. Joe Manchin’s staff, for example, sent out a photo of him answering his own phones. A walk over to the office revealed the West Virginia Democrat at a receptionist’s desk, chatting away as reporters and cameras watched.
Manchin’s office received about 200 voice mails from constituents Tuesday, many wanting to know whether various social services were still available. They got another 200 calls Wednesday. So when Manchin arrived at his office around 9:45 a.m. and heard the phones ringing, he sat down and picked up — and he kept going as people in suits arrived for scheduled meetings.
“They’re upset, truly upset,” Manchin told National Journal Daily, describing the constituents who called. “They’re scared and upset. And this is self-inflicted pain. I just apologize. I am a member of Congress, and I apologize for this unnecessary shutdown.”
What We're Following See More »
"An emerging theory among U.S. military investigators is that the Army Special Forces soldiers ambushed in Niger were set up by terrorists, who were tipped off in advance about a meeting in a village sympathetic to local ISIS affiliates...The group of American Green Berets and support soldiers had requested a meeting with elders of a village that was seen as supportive of the Islamic State, and they attended the meeting at around 11 a.m. local time Oct. 4...Such meetings are a routine part of the Green Beret mission, but it wasn't clear whether this meeting was part of the unit's plan."
"The long-awaited sentencing of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was delayed Monday after a legal battle erupted over the word 'but' in President Donald Trump's most recent remarks about the case. Bergdahl's defense team argued that their client could not get a fair shake from the court because Trump, during a Rose Garden appearance on Oct. 16, at first said he couldn't talk about the case and then added: 'But I think people have heard my comments in the past.'" Trump has called him a traitor and suggested he should be executed.
"Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group are now the subjects of a federal investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News. The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller's inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
"President Donald Trump’s campaign digital director, Brad Parscale, will be interviewed Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee, his first appearance before any of the panels examining the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Parscale confirmed his scheduled appearance. The Senate committees also probing interference haven’t scheduled time with Mr. Parscale, he said, declining to comment further."