Messer moved his family to Washington shortly after he was elected to the House. In the Indiana delegation, quite a few members have relocated their families, a practice started by Pence when he was a representative.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio recently put his West Miami home on the market to move his wife, Jeanette, and three kids — Dominick is 6, Anthony is 8 and Daniella is 11 — closer to Washington. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand lives with her husband and two children, a 10-year old and a 5-year-old, on Capitol Hill. When the Senate is in session, she drops them off at and picks them up from school; the family maintains a primary residence in Brunswick, N.Y.
Clarine Nardi Riddle was former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman’s chief of staff. Now an attorney in D.C, she is a co-founder of No Labels, an organization seeking to promote civility and compromise in Washington. She remembers Lieberman bringing his family to D.C.
“He was advised by a number of colleagues to bring his family with him to D.C. because it would make for keeping the family together, a support system, a way for the family to connect to the broader community and get to know the other families in the Senate,” she said. “He took that really to heart.”
She said No Labels wants changes in the congressional schedule, with more consecutive days in session and coordinated House-Senate calendars. This meshes with having families nearby. “It’s harder to attack someone that you know. To the extent to which the calendar, the week’s schedule of events, can encourage people to get to know each other, to work with each other, then No Labels’ purpose is to help to stop the fighting and start the fixing,” she said.
Messer, who is the Republican class president, agreed.
“I think the lack of people here has changed Washington culture and not for the better,” he said.
Back in the Day
Matthew Wasniewski, the historian for the House of Representatives, said in the 19th century that congressional life was not suitable for families in D.C. — sessions were short and there was little appropriate housing. However, when the schedule shifted to be more year-round and members served more terms in office, some families (not all, he noted) became part of the fabric of the city.
The House historian’s office has among its documents a transcript of a 2007 interview with Cokie Roberts, journalist and daughter of late Democratic Reps. Hale and Lindy Boggs of Louisiana, who spent much of the late 1950s and early ’60s in D.C.
“Everybody knew each other, and that is a huge change from now,” she said in the interview. “Because transportation was such that we were here, ... members were not going home on weekends, ... people played bridge. People did get to know each other. And there was that sense that after the sun goes down, we’re all friends. You’d see each other at church, you’d see each other at school events.”
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.