In December, when the Politico reporters Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett interviewed Senator Kevin Cramer, the freshman Republican from North Dakota offered a peculiar perspective on his job.
After he answered an assortment of questions about President Trump and the Democrats with his trademark entertaining bluntness, Levine and Everett asked Cramer if his ambitions extended to rising up the ranks and chairing a major Senate committee someday. Cramer said he not only didn’t seek such responsibilities, he pretty much pitied those members of Congress who had them. “I often look at them, I think, ‘Why would anybody want that job? Isn’t that terrible?’” he said. “I love all of them but I always say: ‘Gosh, I don’t know … Seems like it would tie up a lot of your energy.’”
Cramer might be more frank than some of his colleagues, but he was speaking for many of them. And the sentiment makes you wonder, what exactly is a senator’s energy for? These days, the answer has less to do with legislation than with public performance.
Congress isn’t doing its job. That much has become painfully clear in this century. Legislation barely moves, the budget process has not functioned properly in years, members of both parties are frustrated with their leaders, and the institution has long been surrendering its power to administrative agencies, presidents, and judges. But if Congress isn’t doing its job, just what exactly is it doing? Members aren’t sitting around. Their lives are frantic and intense. But how might we describe what they are busy with?