Heard on the Hill

Will members of Congress ever drug-test themselves? They’ve certainly tried

From the Gingrich era to the present, lawmakers have toyed with peeing in a cup

Last year Rep. Clay Higgins became the latest member to call on Congress to drug-test itself. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congress has a long history of trying to drug-test itself. But has it ever succeeded?

Back in 1997, House Republicans got close. They changed the rules to let the speaker develop a sweeping program to test members and staff.

At the time, politicians on both sides of the aisle were cracking down on low-level drug offenders. Speaker Newt Gingrich had warned against “counterculture people.” And some lawmakers, like Joe L. Barton, were already peeing in a cup to make a point.

The executive branch had established its own internal program, and members of Congress were getting heat for redoubling the war on drugs without submitting to testing themselves. But in the end, Gingrich didn’t take advantage of the change. The provision still exists in the House rules, but no speaker has chosen to use it.

Some have gone the legislative route. Rep. Clay Higgins, known for his tough-talking “Crime Stoppers” videos, became the latest to urge members to get out of their glass houses, introducing the “Exposing Congressional Drug Abuse Act” last year.

His resolution went nowhere, of course. But he insisted it wasn’t a stunt. “Elected officials in Washington, D.C., should be subject to the same kind of random drug screenings that blue-collar, working-class Americans have to endure,” the Louisiana Republican said.

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