In a poll conducted last week, Fox News found that 82 percent of Americans disapproved of Congress going on recess during August. Or, to be specific, that 82 percent of people didn't "feel Congress has been working hard enough to deserve taking a summer recess." That recess isn't recess in the traditional sense. Congress isn't running onto the Capitol grounds to play kickball before lunch. The break, of course, has long been an opportunity for members of Congress to return to their districts, meet with constituents — and take a little time off. But the poll raised the question: How much is this recess a chance for members of Congress to relax, and how much was work away from the D.C. office? We reached out to a number of members of Congress to find out.
And we were surprised by the results. We reached out to five members of Congress at random and found several more who had calendars posted online.
For the most part, offices seemed wary about sharing details. Some flatly refused to do so. Of course, part of the time will be spent on the traditional congressional activity of fundraising, which the elected officials are generally loathe to discuss. (The Sunlight Foundation keeps a running tally of fundraisers they find out about.)
What we did learn is below. And it suggests that Fox News' question isn't that far off-base. Over the course of the month, members of Congress aren't putting a lot on their public calendars, and they're not eager to describe what they're doing for the rest of their days. Perhaps these members of Congress hadn't seen that 82 percent poll number. Or, as other evidence indicates, Congress isn't that worried about poll numbers in general.
People we spoke with
Rep. Dave Camp. Republican, MI-4
Camp's office said they would send us a schedule. They have not yet done so.
Rep. Steve Stockman. Republican, TX-36 (pictured above with Ted Nugent)
Rep. Mac Thornberry. Republican, TX-13
"During the month of August he's doing multiple town halls throughout the district," we were told, "and meeting with local businesses and local leaders." This is not uncommon. But the office wouldn't tell us more. "We're not giving out specifics. But one town hall a week."
Rep. Mike Honda. Democrat, CA-17
Honda's office offered the most events-packed calendar. It outlined six upcoming events in the Congressman's district, plus it noted that "generally he does one kind of event or another most days.” Honda is facing a possibly tough primary fight, so it's not a surprise that his office would ensure people know details of his schedule.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Democrat, NY-12
Maloney gave us the longest response, detailing a number of events over the break and the policy rationales for her attendance. Here's an excerpt:
Congresswoman Maloney is going to be joining members of her community to express concern about the construction of a marine transfer station on 92nd Street, an area that flooded badly during Superstorm Sandy. Right across from the proposed waste station, flood waters entered the garage of a building and swept the building’s boiler off its moorings and out of the building. The base of the transfer station will, by the city’s admission, be located nearly 6 feet below the flood plain. If another Sandy were to occur, residents believe their neighborhood will be flooded with garbage.
Fair enough. But there aren't that many events. That block of text is one event. Maloney's office described about six in total.
People with calendars
Some members have online calendars that describe some of what they're up to. The intent with these schedules seems to largely be to offer constituents a chance to know where the member of Congress can be found, so they don't always include everything.
Rep. Kevin Brady. Republican, TX-8
Brady's public schedule lists 12 events over the course of the month — most of which are either related to House procedures or to media appearances.
Rep. Chris Gibson. Republican, NY-19
Gibson (whose election will be more competitive, as his seat is listed "lean Republican" by the Cook Political Report) lists weekend-by-weekend events. The most recent is for two weekends ago — a parade on Saturday and a county fair on Sunday.
Rep. Adrian Smith. Republican, NE-3
Smith's schedule lists a series of town halls over the course of the week, and an airport dedication on Sunday.