Opinion Pieces

My First Two Weeks In Office

Washington, January 22, 2015
My first two weeks in the U.S. House of Representatives have been challenging, interesting, busy, and fulfilling. Every day is different, and full of surprises.
I loved my eight years presiding over the Senate of Virginia, and have been amazed at how differently the U.S. House works. For example, in Richmond, everyone is sitting at their desks, ready to work, at noon sharp. The Senators stay in the chamber, quiet, listening, orating, and voting until the day’s work is done. Electronic recorded votes are opened and closed in less than 30 seconds, because the Senators are expected to be paying attention and ready to vote.

In contrast, votes are scheduled on the U.S. House floor for specific times. After four years in Switzerland, I had gotten used to the idea of being 15 minutes early for every event, only to discover that showing up “on time” for a Washington vote often made me one of the few people in the chamber. Voting begins, and may last 30 minutes or longer, while leadership on both sides cajoles, persuades, and whips their own representatives.
The House is none too quiet, either. This is the time for scores of small conversations, about ideas, bills, meeting schedules, and more.

Little by little, I have been trying to get a sense of the culture. I started a conversation with one Congressman, who was at the very back of the House, with his arms resting on the last row of chairs. When I asked how long he had been standing there, he replied, “18 years.” On my first day, I settled into a chair next to a veteran Member from Texas. When I rose to greet someone new, I turned to discover that a hat had suddenly materialized in my chair. Getting the hint, I moved to a new row and a new friend. Rising again momentarily, I discovered a briefcase in my latest seat. I was unwittingly violating territorial imperatives established long before my arrival. I confess that I am still wandering.
I do believe I represent the best congressional district in the country. Highly educated, politically sophisticated, and socially engaged in our community, our constituents are the envy of my colleagues. They also comment, with obvious resentment, on the extreme shortness of my commute to the office. So much easier than flying home to California every weekend.

I have also been moved by how many people I meet every day who have some meaningful connection with my wonderful family. Brother Mike and his wife June have been pillars of the Falls Church community for more than three decades. Our very local family business just celebrated its 41st anniversary. My Falls Church grandchildren, Ava and Will, are fifth generation Northern Virginians (perhaps the Mayflower equivalent for our transient area). We are passionate believers in loving families and strong communities, and I am honored to try to live these values on Capitol Hill.