5 Weird Facts About Congress Nobody Told You In School
Working in government is serious and dignified ... is what we'd say if we were just waking up from a years-long coma. Still, you probably figure that the daily routines of our members of Congress are pretty dull. It's mostly just reading drafts, taking calls, and being mean to your interns, right? The reality is a little weirder -- and sometimes, a lot more embarrassing -- than you think. Starting with the fact that ...
They Get Unlimited Porn And Candy
For those in public service, there's no greater reward than the smiles of a happy public. Well, except free porn. Luckily, that's exactly what everyone in Congress gets. Back in 1983, Larry Flynt (the hairier, smuttier version of Hugh Hefner) started sending copies of Hustler, which we're told is a gentleman's magazine of some description, to every member of Congress. We want you to know it took incredible restraint not to include a "member" pun in the previous sentence.
Anyway, despite the fact that this started during the dark ages before the internet, not everyone in Congress was appreciative. In 1984, 264 (out of 535) congressional offices, along with the USPS, petitioned the District of Columbia to halt the deliveries. The case went to the U.S. District Court, and Congress ... lost, on the grounds that banning the deliveries would've violated Flynt's right to free speech -- a judgment that the court handed down with a scorching "deal with it."
The deliveries still continue to this day, and according to The Atlantic, a lot of those magazines are used by interns to play pranks on each other. "We assume, at this point, that staff members are either reading it or tossing it," said a Hustler representative, winking so hard that he probably dislocated his eyelid.
And if the prospect of free smut isn't enough to tempt you to take up a career in politics, what about free candy?
In a tradition that started way back in 1965, the "Candy Desk" is a desk in the Senate that's always kept well-stocked with sweets. Since the desk is situated on the Republican side, past candy suppliers have included John McCain and Rick Santorum. Rumors that it's currently guarded by Jeff Sessions at the end of a rainbow are absurd. He's no longer a senator.
Congresspeople Have To Commute Using A Tiny Train
Capitol Hill sits atop a sprawling network of underground tunnels. We'd make a few easy jokes about how they lead to doomsday bunkers or lizard nests, but some of you wacky bastards might believe us.
There is something interesting hidden down there, though: a private subway used by members of Congress to commute between the Hill's various legislative chambers and the also-various offices and administrative buildings. That said, if you're picturing some grand, plush affair with dining cars, beer taps, and luxury accommodations, you're way off. It's basically one of those dinky ride-on trains that you can buy for toddlers, only for ... no, that's accurate.
While the subway isn't open to the public, it is open to the press, which means that every journey that a member takes can end in a raging conference, particularly if they're in the news. There's also the awkwardness that comes with having to effectively carpool with your biggest rivals, as well as fending off flocks of lobbyists vying for your time and support. Given everything, we'd be sympathetic to anyone who wanted to spend their entire term holed up in their office.
The System For Dealing With Constituents Is An Embarrassing Mess
Outside of starting a lobbying firm, calling your representative is your main chance to influence how they'll act on subjects like healthcare reform, net neutrality, or whatever the fancy term for "locking children in cages" is. And if you've ever bothered to actually do that, you know that it's not uncommon for your call to go to voicemail, because the whole thing is a shitshow.
First of all, there's no system for making sure voicemails are checked. Most congressional offices leave that for low-level interns to do, between picking up sandwich orders and dodging flying office supplies. Also, these offices only tend to have between four and seven lines, which, as Wired points out, means they could (theoretically) handle a maximum of 4,200 calls per day. That's a woefully inadequate number, given not just the size of the population that each senator/congressperson represents, but also the growing number of people suddenly giving a shit about politics in these tumultuous times. For instance, after the racist-ass immigration ban was announced in January 2017, the Capitol received over 1.5 million calls per day from worried/angry/saddened/delighted constituents.
As for emails, you might as well be typing your message on a Word file and deleting it. Not only are emails easy to lose track of, but it isn't uncommon for them to be erased without being read. This also shouldn't need to be said, but no one is paying much attention to the tweet threads or clapbacks or sassy emoji-fests you're firing at your representative on social media -- despite the fact that this is how millions of people are engaging with politics each day. To be fair, that's probably best for those poor interns' mental health.
They Won't Stop Screwing Around On Wikipedia
You're sorely mistaken if you think that the people working in Congress are more productive than some random office drone or, uh, the president. Specifically, they love dicking around on Wikipedia. Over the last few years, a Twitter account called @CongressEdits has documented thousands of staffers editing Wikipedia articles on topics as far-flung and far-ranging as lightsabers, lizard people, Carly Rae Jepsen, GamerGate, Lord Of The Rings, and whether Donald Rumsfeld is a "alien wizard" -- edits that were caught/flagged because they came from IP addresses assigned to the Capitol.
Occasionally you get pure poetry ...
And other times, it's pure awfulness. In 2014, an anonymous user was caught editing all mentions of the word "torture" from the Wikipedia article on the recently published report on the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation" during the War on Terror. Which is like trying to edit an article about the ocean to remove all mentions of water. Earlier that year, another Congress-goer edited the site's article about transgender actress Laverne Cox to describe her as "a real man pretending to be a woman." You should save your A-material for YouTube comment sections, dude.
If you're reading this from Congress, however, good news. @CongressEdits was suspended by Twitter in October 2018 for accidentally doxxing a bunch of senators. So go nuts! You can finally tell us how you feel about the 2016 Ghostbusters movie.
Politicians Sleeping In Offices Is A Big Problem
A few weeks ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez triggered anger amongst right-wing thought leaders like Ben Shapiro, Candace "I'm Not a Grifter, Honest" Owens, and Fox News Shouty Blonde #27 by saying something that demonstrated how elitist and out of touch with common Americans she really is: It's really hard to maintain two homes.
But this is a tale as old as time. The exorbitant price of real estate in Washington, D.C. is such a problem for politicians that it's estimated that a fifth of the lawmakers in the House of Representatives are swapping expensive rentals and roommates for squatting in their offices like divorced salespeople or every parent in every '90s kids movie.
Of course, congressional offices don't come with beds. Which means that these unfortunates have to stash cots and futons in their closets, or suck it up and lay on the couch. As for washroom facilities, there's a gym which lawmakers can use to freshen up (which has historical precedent, it turns out). It's estimated that there are over 100 lawmakers partaking in this impromptu campout, a number that used to include Paul Ryan. It's easier to deal with uncomfortable cots and hard sofas when you have no spine, though.
There are now growing moves to outlaw the practice, because ew. Some suggest that we could do worse than build Congress a dorm. We don't know if we could stand endless news reports about Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell squaring off over who keeps drinking the others' milk, but it might not be the worst idea for the GOP to get a good night's sleep at some point.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!