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Hill Jobs Laid Groundwork for Members of Congress

Dozens of current members began their careers on Capitol Hill as legislative staffers

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
King came to Capitol Hill first as a legislative staffer. He is one of 73 members who worked as staffers on Capitol Hill before being elected to Congress — a list that includes 13 senators and a host of House members who have served anywhere from one term to several.

Sen. Angus King’s political career has truly come full circle.

Jan. 3, 2013, the day he was sworn in for his first term as Maine’s junior senator, marked 40 years to the day that he got his start on the Hill as a legislative assistant to then-Sen. William Hathaway, D-Maine, a role he’d serve in for two and a half years before heading back to his home state to start his own law practice.

King is just one of a whopping 73 members who worked as a staffer on Capitol Hill before being elected to Congress — a list that includes 13 senators and a host of House members who have served anywhere from one term to several.

Other staffers-turned-members include: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who worked both as an intern and later a full-time staffer for two Kentucky senators; former Republican vice presidential nominee and current House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who interned for Wisconsin GOP Sen. Bob Kasten; and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who worked as an aide for two members of Congress while attending George Washington University. Not on the list but equally as interesting is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who worked on the Capitol Police force to help pay the bills while attending George Washington University Law School.

King, 69, said the experience working on Capitol Hill not only taught him how the place works but also helped him craft a leadership style for those who now work for him in a staffer capacity.

“I’ll never forget, I was having lunch with some staffers for another senator, this was 40 years ago, and I happened to mention my boss, Bill Hathaway, was interested in this and this and this,” King said. “And the other guy asked me how I knew, and I said because [Hathaway] told me.  . . .  Then I asked him, ‘How do you know what your senator wants?’ and he told me, ‘We read tea leaves.’

“I never want to be a senator where my staff needs to read tea leaves to figure out what the hell I want to do,” King said.

To ensure his staff knows what he’s thinking, King said he spends a lot of time calling meetings to update them on what he has been working on, and he often brings younger staffers, such as legislative correspondents, to committee hearings and markups to give them a taste of how the Hill hums.

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