As the temperature heats up, conversation in Washington will soon turn to the August “recess” — a congressional tradition that dates back to the mid-1800s when members adjourned each spring to avoid summer heat in the nation’s capital. Over the years, and with the invention of modern air conditioning, the need to escape the heat has changed but Congress has continued the tradition to provide members an extended period of time away from Washington.
Last year, frustrated with the slow pace of the confirmation process for the administration’s nominees and looking to avoid an unnecessary fight with President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kept members in D.C. for the month of August. Conventional wisdom says the same is likely to happen this year. Unpopular opinion: it shouldn’t.
There is a misconception among the general public that “recess” equates to members of Congress jet setting to a tropical paradise or taking a month off work to catch up on summer reading. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Every member of Congress is different, but the large majority of members use the monthlong break from Washington to do one of the most important parts of their job: meet with the people they represent.
As Senator Corker’s communications director, I was often busier during August than any other time of the year, which completely contradicted expectation. Why? Because the senator typically spent the month (1) traveling to danger zones overseas to meet with the men and women serving our nation in uniform and with foreign allies to discuss critical foreign policy and national security challenges; and/or (2) barnstorming Tennessee to meet with as many constituents as possible, often starting at daybreak and traveling to five or six counties a day to gather feedback and provide updates on our work in Washington.
Sure, they aren’t all Bob Corker – and I readily and with bias admit they don’t all have his same work ethic – but I wholeheartedly believe we need a Congress more connected to the people they represent, not less. The month of August provides that opportunity.
Johnson, former communications director and senior advisor for U.S. Senator Bob Corker, is a co-founder of Bridge Public Affairs, where she serves as the firm’s chief operating officer and senior vice president. She worked on Capitol Hill from 2011-2019.