Thursday, May 24, 2018

A new attitude in the House

WASHINGTON — Picture a congressman making a floor speech.

"You think of the silver-haired chairman sitting up there — crusty, and he's been in Congress 20, 30 years," said Rep. Kendrick Meek, a former state trooper from Miami who is anything but old and crusty. "They've been around forever and ever and ever."

"Stuffy and boring and old," agreed Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who congressional newspaper the Hill listed as one of the Capitol's 50 most beautiful people.

Stuffy and crusty isn't exactly the image that makes you want to stop on CSPAN as you're channel surfing. So what will? Interesting props, maybe. Or younger House members talking in plain language and actually having a discussion about important issues instead of reading from a script. And if you still can't get voters to watch CSPAN, try an edgy (for Congress) video that will get the YouTube and Facebook generation to pay attention.

That's the idea behind the 30 Something Working Group established by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who tapped Florida Democrats Meek and Wasserman Schultz to help lead an effort to reach younger voters.

That's why you can find Meek walking around the Capitol with a videocamera. And it explains why Wasserman Schultz took a Republican bobblehead to the House floor to make a point.

Meek was elected to Congress in 2002 as a 36-year-old, and Wasserman Schultz was elected in 2004 when she was 38. Yes, they are no longer in their 30s; both are 41. But apparently that's close enough.

The 30 Something group takes over the House floor at night, usually once a week for an hour, to talk about issues before Congress. While the reverence that's expected in the chamber is maintained, the conversation is a little looser.

While Republicans don't have an equivalent group to the Democrats' 30 Something, the House Republican Conference, which is led by 33-year-old Florida Rep. Adam Putnam, also is making use of YouTube to get its message across. As well as floor speeches, they post slickly produced attacks on Democrats on issues ranging from gas prices to homeland security.

Before Democrats took over the majority, the 30 Something discussions were even more frequent.

It was during one of those sessions that Wasserman Schultz brought a Republican elephant bobblehead to the floor and said House Republicans don't know how to say no to big oil companies.

Like the bobblehead, Republicans can't move their head side-to-side, only up and down, she said.

Meek's most popular prop at the time was the "Republican Rubber Stamp" — an oversized replica ink stamp that he would bring to the floor as he accused Republican members of blindly following their leadership.

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