Dear Tom,

It’s been a busy week for you as Congress got back into session; things are getting busy in my household too as I prepare for a new semester of teaching.

Tuesday was a really exciting day as I woke up to the news that House Republicans had proposed an amendment to a rules bill that would have taken away the independence of Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), making it answerable only to the House Committee on Ethics, run by the very people (congressional representatives) it could be investigating. Since this proposal emerged out of a private meeting and the vote on the amendment was going to happen on Tuesday afternoon, I got on the phone right away in the morning and called your Washington office. I spoke to someone there and asked that you not support the amendment. By noon, Republicans responded to some tweets by President-elect Trump and hopefully to calls from constituents like me and reversed course on this idea.

The idea of reforming how the OCE works is not all bad. I can see how letting investigations be prompted by anonymous tips could lead to trouble. I can imagine someone who wanted to take revenge on a political rival instigating a spurious investigation, further bogging down congressional work. But there are surely ways to revise the rules for this office without taking away its independence. Thanks for listening and for making the right call.

I’ve been trying to be a good citizen this week and keep track of what Congress has been up to, but the more I looked, the less clear it became. I was excited to see, on your Facebook page, that you had given a 23-minute interview on CSPAN’s Washington Journal about the “Republican agenda.” Here’s a link to the interview for those who read my blog. I sat down this morning with a cup of coffee to watch that interview and learn more about what you and your colleagues hope to do.

Sigh. In 23 minutes, you said only one specific thing—that you like the idea of “border adjustability” in the tax law of imports and exports. After the show, I looked up the term and read about the pros and cons of this idea (if I’ve understood it rightly, it means exempting exports from taxes while taxing imports). That sounds like something that would help American manufacturers while it would be very unpopular with big-box chain retailers like Walmart and Target whose business model relies on cheap imported goods. I appreciate your introducing me to the term so that I can follow discussions of this issue.

In the rest of the interview, though, any time you were asked to say something specific, you reverted to broad, vague talking points. I was grudgingly impressed with your ability to do this. It can’t be easy to maintain your composure and keep veering away from saying anything specific.

You were asked about your role as a “vice-chair” of President-Elect Trump’s transition team and you gave a vague answer about the “process going well” and “hitting the ground running”; you were asked about repealing the Affordable Care Act and what the Republicans had in mind to replace it and you gave a vague answer about “a lot of debate; a  lot of leaders” and having “open and honest debate.” You were asked about the CIA’s insistence that Russia sought to influence the last election and you gave a vague answer about the appropriateness of President-Elect Trump questioning the work of our intelligence service.

I was disappointed with the host, Bill Scanlon, for not pushing you harder. He asked you to give specifics a couple of times, but didn’t press you to actually do so. I can guess why you don’t want to get specific. Anything you say could be quoted back to you as something you promised to do. And we are not very forgiving, in election campaigns, about people who change their minds. Talking specifics means that you’ll be held accountable for your ideas. Staying vague is safe.

So I feel a little stymied as an engaged citizen this week. I can watch a 23-minute interview with my congressional representative about what he did this week and learn almost nothing that I did not already know about what my government is doing or planning to do. Most crucially, I still don’t know even in a broad way what’s going to happen to the health-insurance system that many Americans now use other than that it’s going to “repealed.”

I sent you my first post-election letter on Nov. 13. It’s been 56 days and I’ve written to you six times (not counting today). I haven’t heard from you yet. I had a such a nice interaction with your office staffer on Tuesday, perhaps I’ll start calling more often. At least I’ll know that I’ve gotten through.

Talk to you soon I hope,


2 thoughts on “In the swamp

  1. I did read somewhere (that seemed reliable) that phone calls were the most effective form of communication with representatives. But I enjoy reading your thoughts so I like the blog approach! 🙂


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