Hundreds of members of Congress know how to legislate because Judy Schneider taught them.
The specialist tasked with explaining procedural rules to lawmakers, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Congressional Management Foundation on Friday.
Schneider has spent almost four decades at the Congressional Research Service. Before that, she worked for the Senate Ethics Committee, a Senate select committee and the House Commission on Administrative Review.
“She was the one who got me going and taught me what I know today. I owe everything to Judy,” Rep. Dave Reichert said at CMF’s Democracy Awards. The Washington Republican was a winner too, honored in the “workplace environment” category.
Accepting an award for Sen. Rob Portman, staffer Emily Benavides said the Ohio Republican was “very impressed to be recognized alongside Judy Schneider, a 42-year Capitol Hill veteran.”
HOH sat down with Schneider to talk about how 9/11 changed Congress and how sledding could save the Hill.
Q: What’s missing for staffers?
A: Staffers would congregate more with each other. We didn’t need all of the, “Let’s have a staff association to do this.” We just kind of knew each other. We saw each other in the cafeteria or we saw each other at the shoe shine. I think we didn’t know what party people were. You were just, “so and so who was an [legislative correspondent].” You figured it out eventually, but if you liked the person, you liked the person. That’s why hallways were such a big deal.
There were hall parties. … The week before Thanksgiving, there would be a party. There were always hall parties at Christmastime. There were always hall parties around the Fourth of July break. It didn’t make a difference who was on the hall.
Q: When did you start to notice Capitol Hill was changing?
A: The election of 2000, watching what happened in Florida, watching how long it look. The longer it took, the more people started getting, for lack of a better term, political. And we didn’t even have a chance to get over that when 9/11 came along.
Then 9/11 happened and everything changed. You got a different group of people that came to Washington. Social policy was what we worried about … all of a sudden it became military policy. Policy issues changed, and members who spend their careers on certain things found themselves having to pivot to other things.
Q: Has any recent event made you feel like Capitol Hill is the community it was when you first started here?
A: I want to say the response to the [2017 Steve] Scalise shooting, but I’ll tell you why I don’t want to say that. Everybody did outrage and everybody prayed for him, but I don’t know how bipartisan the visits to the hospital were. I don’t know except when he came back how many ran over and hugged him. Outrage is one thing. The death of Louise Slaughter. [Members said,] “Oh what a horrible thing. So sad.” Both of those events should have brought us back to that.
Probably the closest is when they finally allowed sledding back on the Capitol [in 2015], because both parties said it’s a good thing. It’s not a policy, but its one of the first times I saw both parties understand how important it is. [I’ve] gone down the West Front, except I didn’t use a sled. I used a tray from the Longworth cafeteria. But I was also much younger then.
Q: What makes you crazy?
A: People that take people out on [a Capitol] tour. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you.” But I do have a favorite story, and it is an intern who was bringing through a bunch of visitors through the Cannon tunnel and showing off the artwork. I listened to the intern explain to the family that this is artwork done by children of members of Congress.
[Editor’s note: the artwork is done by high school constituents.]
Q: What’s your favorite office on Capitol Hill?
A: A former member from Illinois who had an office in Rayburn … on the wall behind the receptionist, was a full body oil painting of the member. Now, the member, the guy’s name was Ken Gray, and he was known for several things — his hair was very frizzy and it looked like a Brillo pad and he dressed like a, I don’t know, cartoon character. I mean orange suits with a green bow tie.
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