Politico

Grab a Beer, Don’t Stay Too Long and More Advice for the New Class of Congress

Capitol Hill is not an easy place to navigate. It’s not just the maze of hallways that can torture a new member of Congress, but the vicious political maneuvering that takes place behind the scenes.

To help the freshman class, we asked retiring members of the House and Senate to offer one piece of advice to the newcomers. The responses from 14 lawmakers range from the practical — let your chief of staff hire your whole office — to the philosophical — savor the “pinch me” moments — to the bipartisan — yes, really get a beer with someone from the other party.

So, here are some words of wisdom for the newbies. They’re going to need it.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger

Republican, Illinois

“Take time for yourself. You can drown in the job if you don’t. The free world will survive even if you don’t work on Sunday.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin

Republican, New York

“The intent of our founding fathers was that we bring our energy and ideas to try to make a difference in Congress, and then we move on. Don’t spend the rest of your life in Congress. Try to make a maximum impact throughout the time you have in Congress, but then leave before too long and allow someone else to come in and take your position. You would be making our founding fathers much prouder.”

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Democrat, Texas

“Always remember that everyone has the same right to believe what they believe as you to believe what you believe. Try to understand their reasoning for their beliefs to start to improve mutual understanding. Do not condemn before you have the explanation. It can start a mutual respect you never thought you would have.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio

Democrat, Oregon

“Find opportunities to reach across the aisle. When in doubt, beer is a great bridge to help span the partisan divide.”

Sen. Pat Toomey

Republican, Pennsylvania

“Please keep the filibuster. It is the only mechanism that forces bipartisan consensus. It prevents governance from the extremes. By forcing bipartisanship, it results in more durable legislation and so lessens the likelihood of big swings in policies. It provides stability for our constituents.”

Rep. David Price

Democrat, North Carolina

“I know that many of my colleagues view service in the House as a high calling, involving serious moral obligations. But we need to think of these obligations in institutional terms, rejecting the temptation to always play the outsider. We must criticize our institutions when they go astray, but our larger obligation is to enable our committees, parties and the House as a whole to function in a way that promotes democratic accountability and effectiveness.”

Rep. John Katko

Republican, New York

“Read Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. The book details the relationship between Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, two diametrically opposed political leaders that were able to compromise and make progress on key issues for the good of the nation. At a time in which Washington is seemingly more divided than ever, this story is a powerful reminder for incoming Members of Congress that bipartisanship can still work.”

Rep. Marie Newman

Democrat, Illinois

“My advice is to work for your constituents and nobody else, particularly not corporations and donors. Stay authentic, transparent, honest and hardworking. Moving forward, I recommend all members of Congress stop taking Corporate PAC money and rein in Super PACs completely, as it only does harm.”

Rep. Rodney Davis

Republican, Illinois

“98% of your constituents are not using Twitter, but 99% of DC media live, eat and breathe on it. Don’t let them make you into a story that goes beyond that platform and affects the job you can do for your voters back home.”

Rep. Anthony Brown

Democrat, Maryland

  1. “Never lose sight of the interests and needs of your constituents, most of which plays out in your District Office and not on Capitol Hill.”
  2. “Take advantage of domestic and foreign CODELS, they provide an important perspective for the work that is done on Capitol Hill, and are an important part component of your oversight responsibilities.”
  3. “Hire one person, your chief of staff, and let your chief hire everyone else with your advice and consent of course.”
  4. “Encourage your staff to pursue their interests so long as they do not conflict with yours. Some of your best bills and amendments and initiatives in your Office will originate with your staff.”
  5. “Don’t worry if you’re not having fun. The privilege to serve in Congress and the things you get done for your constituents will be the reward.”

Sen. Rob Portman

Republican, Ohio

“If you are here to make progress and get things done, there’s no substitute for developing meaningful relationships with members of both parties.”

Rep. John Yarmuth

Democrat, Kentucky

“Over my eight terms in Congress, it’s become more and more clear that we need to find ways to talk to each other more frequently and do a better job of listening. And I don’t just mean members of Congress — I think conservatives and liberals across the country need to find avenues for discussion because right now we’re like two railroad tracks going parallel but never meeting. And that’s holding us back as a country. I will miss the serious, thoughtful, and often noble discussions about how we can make a positive difference in the lives of so many Americans, even if we rarely agree on how to do it. It’s imperative that those discussions keep happening.”

Rep. Fred Upton

Republican, Michigan

“I learned under the Reagan model where you had a GOP president and a Congress that was controlled by Democrats. Reagan got things done. Fast forward to today, and looking at the narrow margins in Congress, it is clear that members will need to be bipartisan to get anything done. That is why groups like the Problem Solvers Caucus are so important.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Democrat, Vermont

“Never tire of appreciating the ‘pinch me moments’ you will encounter in this building, like seeing the Capitol bathed in light at night.”

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