Hitting the gym, dog-sitting, and actually showing up to meet constituents: Here's how House Democrats spent their 3 weeks without a speaker

  • House Democrats were mostly stuck in DC for 3 weeks as the GOP struggled to choose a new speaker.

  • With few hearings and no bills moving, that meant much more downtime than usual.

  • Some Democrats told Insider they found a silver lining, like hitting the gym or dog-sitting.

Stuck in Washington but unable to pass legislation, members of the House of Representatives were in a kind of purgatory during the 22 days between Kevin McCarthy's ouster and Mike Johnson's elevation to speaker.

Republicans had their work cut out for them, meeting daily in contentious, hours-long meetings without their phones as they churned through three different speaker nominees before finally settling on Johnson.

That left Democrats, already lined up behind House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, scrambling to find other things to fill the time.

"I almost forget what it's like to be in committee at this point," Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont told Insider on Tuesday.

Nearly every Democrat who spoke with Insider registered their immense annoyance with the situation, particularly when they mentioned the myriad events in their districts that they had to cancel or postpone as they stayed in Washington.

It's been an especially big frustration for Democrats in swing districts, all of whom need to be seen in their communities as much as possible.

"We're never sure when we're going to be here, when we're going to leave, you can't commit, we've had to cancel," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who likely faces a competitive re-election in Ohio next year. "That's extremely unfair to the people I represent."

Furthermore, Democrats had to deal with an uncertain calendar driven by the ups and downs of what happened among their Republican colleagues, never knowing when votes might suddenly be called or when they might suddenly be sent home.

"It's not that we just sit around here and twiddle our thumbs," said Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. "But the lack of certainty is frustrating. It's not like I haven't been productive, I think I have. But, you know, my wife doesn't know whether I'm coming home on the weekend or not."

"Canceling and uncanceling and canceling," said Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, describing the last three weeks. "I have what feels like three scheduling meetings a day, because we're scheduling, unscheduling, scheduling, and unscheduling."

Yet the three weeks without a speaker also had something of a silver lining for lawmakers, particularly given the hectic schedules they typically endure: more time to focus.

"The legislative team in particular has been able to focus on some of my priorities that we need to work on," said Rep. Chris Deluzio of Pennsylvania, another vulnerable Democrat. "But that's something they've gotta do anyway."

Rep. Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico said he's had more time engage with his staff back home via phone, and to fine-tune and gather support for a series of immigration-related bills he plans to roll out next week.

"We've gotten to do a lot of the policy stuff that we don't always get to do, since we're pretty busy up here," said Rep. Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico.

But without the pressure of preparing for votes and committee meetings, he's also had time to get fit — and start hitting the gym.

"I've also been running a lot, four or five miles a day," said Vasquez. "I signed up for the gym. So yeah, I've been playing basketball down in the gym as well."

Dogs have also made their way into the mix. Balint said that a "personal source of joy" for her was getting to dog sit Rep. Sharice Davids' rescue dog, Peanut.

"He's super fast for a little three-legged guy," said Balint. "We'd be in a lot better place if the dogs were running the show here."

Peanut chewing a carrot toy.
Peanut chewing a carrot toy.Rep. Becca Balint of Vermont

Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota also brought her dog — a 5-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Dakota — to the Capitol for two weeks to serve as a kind of "therapy dog" for her colleagues, particularly during lengthy floor votes for speaker.

"Dakota's been sharing her love around — on a bipartisan basis, by the way," said Craig. "I found out that [Michigan Republican Rep.] Lisa McClain has a King Charles Spaniel too, so we've been comparing notes."

Rep. Angie Craig and her dog, Dakota.
Rep. Angie Craig and her dog, Dakota.Office of Rep. Angie Craig

For Rep. Don Beyer, whose home in his Northern Virginia district is just a 15-minute drive from the Capitol, things haven't been so bad. He's been able to actually sit in on meetings with constituent groups — a task more typically delegated to staff members, given the congressman's busy schedule.

"I'm the most spoiled member of Congress," said Beyer. "In many ways."

And ultimately, as each Democrat took pains to make clear, it's not like Democrats were totally sitting on their hands. The ongoing conflict in Israel has meant more security briefings and organizing efforts, keeping some lawmakers just as busy as before.

"Personally, I feel like I've been running around like our hair's on fire," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, detailing Israel-related phone calls with colleagues and Biden administration officials.

"I don't know how the days have gotten filled up, but they have been absolutely, totally full," said Spanberger, who said that she's been busy as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

"There hasn't been a lot of downtime," said Craig. "It's funny in this place how no matter what's happening, we tend to fill it."

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