How Congress Really Works/Why Seth Rogen Failed to Get Attention

Yesterday, Gawker covered Seth Rogen's appearance at a Congressional hearing and the lack of Congressional attention. A lot of Gawker commenters were understandably outraged at the lack of attendees at Rogan's hearing. There were lots of insults and accusations of Congressional laziness and disinterest.

It's no secret that I hate celebrities going to Capitol Hill, but I really don't have a horse in this race other than to explain how things work behind the scenes because you, as taxpayers, should know. As a Hill staffer, I will address some of the concerns and questions that were in the comments. I've paraphrased some common responses, and I'll do my best to answer those concerns.

That Congressional Committee barely had anyone there. What the hell do Members of Congress do all damn day?
I wish every single taxpayer could see the amount of event requests we get every single day. Honestly, it looks a lot like this.

How Congress Really Works/Why Seth Rogen Failed to Get Attention

There is literally no way we can accommodate every single request. There isn't enough time in the day.

Compound that with all the Congressional hearings that go on with the fact that many Members are on more than one Committee. In addition to that, there are votes going on all the time. And no one can miss those because missed votes get recorded and noted by the opposition come election time. (All Congressional attendance records are public.)

Do you think Marissa Meyer, Bill Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg, Steven Spielberg, Indra Nooyi, Adam Levine, Bono, the Kardashians, and even President Obama take every single event request they get? Good lord no. Aside from a lot of talking, they'd never get anything done if they did. Accommodating those requests would be a full-time job.

On any given day, a Member of Congress can be at: party caucus, votes, hearings, meetings with constituents or lobbyists, media interviews, photo ops, the White House, briefings, approving constituent mail, on the phone for official business, reviewing the office budget, and staff meetings. All those are DC-based activities. District activities are different and handled by different people. That doesn't even count the political stuff, which is supposed to be done on their own time on the private dime. Yes, fundraising sucks, but it has to be done. Tis the world we live in today.

I cannot speak for any of the Members on this Committee, they were likely doing one of the above activities, which is exactly what we elected them to do, not meet with a celebrity who just stopped by for 20 minutes. (And 20 minutes is super generous for a Congressional committee.)

No one cared enough to go to hearing with Seth Rogen? He was talking about something really important.
I have no doubt that he was. But so do all the other people that come to Capitol Hill. Congressional staff have to prioritize not only the Member's time but their own time. Again, I don't know how other offices work, but I do know that constituents and local advocates back home get top priority. And they damn well should.

Unless Rogen literally had the cure to Alzheimer's, he didn't have the right information to warrant full Committee participation. Honest question: what could he have possibly said or done that Members of Congress and their staff don't already know or couldn't find out themselves?

Here's another reason the committee room was empty: all committee testimony is available via the internet within 24 hours and hard copy. If I already have a billion other meetings or memos and mail to write, which I do, then it's more efficient for me to grab all that stuff and read it later (usually on my own time). If I have a question about Congressional testimony, I can either track it down via the respective Committee or contact the witness myself. (I've never done that for a celebrity so it may work differently.)

Whenever I watch C-SPAN, all I see are empty chambers. No one cares enough to show up.
The answer to your question is in your question! C-SPAN is precisely what allows us to work at our desks and have the television turned to the chamber floor at all times. Members need to know what's happening on the floor so they know how they're going to vote when that time comes.

Here's how it works. Leadership sets up the floor schedule for week. All staffers get an emailed copy of it. Someone in each office is usually assigned to watch C-SPAN for the day and follow what votes are happening and when. That person stays until votes are done, which can run late.

Not only do we not have to sit in a chamber all day, but C-SPAN allows us the freedom to work on other things — writing constituent mail, meeting memos, research, media inquiries, and going to the bathroom. And you want your tax dollars to work more efficiently, right?

As for the floor itself, Members are the only ones allowed on the chamber floor. Staff have to get a special pass, but my boss has to justify why I'm there. The idea is to prevent the place from getting overrun with tourists, interns, and staff. Children under 14, however, are permitted. (I have no idea why.)

Visuals of the House and Senate chambers are pointless. If you really want to know who is paying attention, look at how many people are tuned in to C-SPAN.

Congress is so unproductive! The no shows at this hearing are just another example of that.
Yes it's true. Congress can be very unproductive, but that's a combination of a heavy-handed bureaucratic process and a complex, pernicious political climate. And yes bureaucracy leads to slow process and little productivity. That's a good thing!

The Congressional process has spread power into so many specific steps. Not even John Boehner can snap his fingers and get what he wants. Bills have to travel through several channels to get majority approval. The process can be so long and burdensome that much legislation dies on its own but is sometimes introduced in a new Congress.

Our political process is meant to be that way, and trust me, America, you want it that way! Dictatorships are noted for their efficiency and quick decisions, but they also have many citizens looking like this.

How Congress Really Works/Why Seth Rogen Failed to Get Attention

But it's Seth Rogen!
It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of Members have no clue who he is. I'm not saying that's the case here, but I know it has happened before.

How can Congress be so out of touch?
Let me flip this question. Do you think any of the celebrities knew who their Members of Congress were before they set foot on a plane? How about state representatives? County officials? City council? That's worse because those are the people that can have a significant impact on your paycheck, your home, your health care, and your life.

I have to be honest. I don't know who most of the celebrities in US Weekly and People are either, and I was born in the late 1970s! For example, I had no idea who Amber Rose was until she turned up in one of my RuPaul's Drag Race marathons. That was a few years ago, and I still have no idea who she is or why she was judging drag queens.

I don't think it's so terrible. Hollywood people don't spend their days addicted to tracking Congressional activities and Congress certainly doesn't follow the latest Hollywood news. So fair is fair.

I hope this clears up some confusion. If you've got more questions, I'll do my best to answer in the comments.