Congress

Understanding How Your Member of Congress Thinks and Using that to Help Puerto Rico

To understand your own Member of Congress (MoC), you have to remember one thing: every House member runs for office every two years and every Senator runs for election every six years. Functionally speaking, MoCs are always either running for office or getting ready for their next election—a fact that shapes everything they do.

To be clear, this does not mean that your MoC is cynical and unprincipled. The vast majority of people in Congress believe in their ideals and care deeply about representing their constituents and having a positive impact. But they also know that if they want to make change, they need to stay in office.

This constant reelection pressure means that MoCs are enormously sensitive to their image in the district or state, and they will work very hard to avoid signs of public dissent or disapproval. What every MoC wants—regardless of party—is for his or her constituents to agree with the following narrative:

“My MoC cares about me, shares my values, and is working hard for me.”
—What every MoC wants their constituents to think

It’s easy to think that one voice doesn’t matter, but you have to always remember your MoC works for you! You have the right to reach out to them any time you have a concern. 

WHAT DOES A MEMBER OF CONGRESS’ OFFICE DO AND WHY?

A MoC’s office is composed of roughly 15-25 staff for House offices and 60-70 for Senate offices, spread across a DC office and one or several district offices. MoC offices perform the following functions:

  • Provide constituent services. Staff connect with both individual constituents and local organizations, serving as a link to and an advocate within the federal government on issues such as visas, grant applications, and public benefits.
  • Communicate with constituents directly. Staff take calls, track constituent messages, and write letters to stay in touch with constituents’ priorities, follow up on specific policy issues that constituents have expressed concern about, and reinforce the message that they are listening.
  • Meet with constituents. MoCs and staff meet with constituents to learn about local priorities and build connections.
  • Seek and create positive press. Staff try to shape press coverage and public information to create a favorable image for the MoC.
  • Host and attend events in district. Representatives host and attend events in the district to connect with constituents, understand their priorities, and get good local press.
  • Actual legislating. MoCs and staff decide their policy positions, develop and sponsor bills, and take votes based on a combination of their own beliefs, pressure from leadership/lobbyists, and pressure from their constituents.

WHAT YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS CARES ABOUT:

When it comes to constituent interactions, MoCs care about things that make them look good, responsive, and hardworking to the people of their district. In practice, that means that they care about some things very much, and other things very little:

 

Your MoC Cares a Lot About: Your MoC Doesn’t Care Much About:
  • Verified constituents from the district (or state for Senators)
  • People from outside the district (or state for Senators)
  • Advocacy that requires effort — the more effort, the more they care: calls, personal emails, and especially showing up in person in the district
  • Form letters, tweets, or a Facebook comments from people outside their district (or state for Senators)
  • Local press and editorials, maybe national press
  • Wonky D.C.-based news (depends on the MoC)
  • An interest group’s endorsement
  • Your angry analysis of the proposed bill
  • Groups of constituents, locally famous individuals, or big individual campaign contributors
  • Unorganized and uninformed constituent
  • Concrete single ask in your communication — letter, email, phone call, office visit, etc.
  • Your general ideas about the world and laundry list of all the issues you’re concerned about