By Lesley Witter, Senior Vice President, Advocacy
Tuesday, January 3, 2023, heralded the full reopening of the U.S. House of Representatives and the swearing in of the new 118th Congress. Well, at least that’s how it was supposed to go!
I was looking forward to swearing-in day or “opening day” as it’s call it in D.C. The people’s House has been in virtual lockdown since March 12, 2022. I do most of my job in the halls of Congress, so this closure has been particularly problematic for me and the thousands of other D.C. lobbyists who rely on access and relationships to do our job. The 117th congress was the first Congress in history where the public didn’t have full access to Congressional buildings and, to an old school “shoe leather lobbyist” like me, Zoom just didn’t cut it. I know the younger staff and some members of Congress love it because it limited people’s access to them in person, but that is not how D.C. business gets done.
I went into “opening day” with such hope and enthusiasm. In fact, we have a joke here “the first day of a new Congress is always the best because we still have hope … and that hope is usually gone by day two.”
I left my house at 7 a.m., took a quick metro ride to Capitol South station and went to the Capitol Hill Club for breakfast. For more than 20 years, I’ve gotten together with group of lobbyists representing a wide range of interest groups for an early breakfast on the first day back. It’s a large group, usually more than 20, with people coming and going all morning. We talk about who got in the year-end package, what we expect from the new Congress, what we can work together on, and who has connections with new members.
Of course, it wasn’t just lobbyists having breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club; members of Congress-elect were there too with their families, fueling up before their official swearing in and a busy first day.
The official “reopening to the public” didn’t take place until noon, but I had “official business” so I was able to get early access to the incredibly busy House buildings.
During Opening Day most members of Congress open their office to anyone who wants to visit so it’s a great time to chat with them and their staff. Also, many Members take their official oath of office in their office, which is great event to witness.
Usually around noon, the Members-elect are sworn in and the rest of the day is spent at receptions. Later, events move off the Hill and become “evening receptions.”
Of course, this plan relies on one simple thing: the Speaker of the House must be elected prior to the new Congress been sworn in. As you know by now, that did not happen this year.
By 1 p.m., I was in the cafeteria of the Longworth House office building where everyone was staring at the televisions and watching chaos unfolding on the floor of the House.
As people watched round after round of votes for Speaker on televisions, I continued making my rounds to Congressional offices and, honestly, had lots of really great interactions with legislators because nobody was getting sworn in that day.
Things went a lot smoother on the Senate side. I spent the evening popping from one Senate event to another, congratulating the Senators on their re-elections.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I followed the same schedule on the Hill, expecting a resolution to the question of who would be elected Speaker of the House, but that didn’t happen.
Since Tuesday, I averaged more than 12,000 steps each day because I used the time to reconnect with legislators and staff and to make connections with Members-elect (until they are sworn-in they aren’t actually “new members”).
I have heard lots of people comment on the dysfunction in Washington because the election of a Speaker, but I actually see it as democracy in action. We all get a voice, we all have a say, we don’t ever have to deny our voice. In fact, this week I have been thinking of a Mark Twain quote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Democracy demands a little chaos every now and again, the key thing is knowing what to do during these times.
This week has been a good example of situations outside of NFDA’s control which we have used to continue working for you, our valued members. Our job is to remain focused on the legislative and regulatory issues impacting funeral service, small business and the families you serve. There will be ups-and-downs throughout this 118th session of Congress, but together we can make a difference. That’s why I’m inviting YOU to come join me, and the D.C. madness, for our in-person Advocacy Summit, which will take place April 19-21. We’ll have complete details in the coming weeks.
I have really missed having our annual Advocacy Summit and seeing the powerful results our members can achieve when we work together and use our voices and take part in democracy! Please mark your calendar and join your colleagues in advocating on behalf of your profession and the families you serve.
If you have questions about what NFDA is doing in your behalf in Washington, D.C., please contact me at email@example.com.