Share

POLITICS: PennAve

Long-winded lawmakers turn to short, snappy Twitter

By |
Congress,Harry Reid,Darrell Issa,PennAve,Sean Lengell,John Cornyn,Twitter,Instagram,Chuck Grassley

A body legendary for its convoluted rhetoric and long-winded answers to short, simple questions, Congress has fallen in love with communicating 140 characters at a time.

Twitter is now almost universally embraced on Capitol Hill, as all 100 senators have active Twitter accounts while fewer than a dozen of the House's 435 representatives shun the micro-blogging social media service.

The numbers represent a significant jump in congressional Twitter use compared with August 2011, when about 83 percent of Congress had registered Twitter accounts, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

"I find Twitter to be a great tool for interacting directly with the 26 million Texans I represent," said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, whose more than 10,600 tweets rank highest in his chamber. "I enjoy having the opportunity to keep the conversation going in Texas when I have to be away in Washington."

Rep. Darrell Issa, a tech-savvy California Republican who has logged more than 15,100 tweets, has the most prolific Twitter account in Congress. About 95 percent of his missives deal with his day-to-day work in Congress, such as matters relating to pending legislation, committee hearings or TV appearances.

But Issa also routinely uses Twitter for lighter matters, such as posting old photos of himself on "Throwback Thursdays," the occasional food photo and the weekly cute cat pics known as "Friday Kitty."

The lawmaker also generated buzz earlier this summer when he used a decades-old headshot of himself -- sporting an early 1980s-era mustache and oversized glasses -- as his Twitter profile picture.

"Twitter is really cool like that because you get to share your personality," said Justin LoFranco, digital director for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs.

"For the members who are doing it that way and have bought into that philosophy and do share a little bit about what's going on in their day to day life, their followers do appreciate that and reward them with more retweets and more engagement. And that's really what you want out of a following."

While Issa's staff wouldn't say if the lawmaker writes all his tweets, LoFranco said the messages all have the congressman's fingerprints.

"Congressman Issa is an active participant across all of his social media platforms, and that's why so much of the content is unique," LoFranco said.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has attracted a cult following among political junkies and the Washington press corps for his personalized, and sometimes quirky, tweets. His rants at the History Channel, which he often accuses of not having enough history-related programs, are favorites among his Twitter fans.

Another classic Grassley tweet was an announcement last October that he struck a deer while driving on an Iowa country road. The message triggered thousands of retweets and responses ranging from amusement to shock to anger.

"People went nuts about it," Grassley said. "People on the East Coast don't realize that deer is plentiful and they've got their own freedom, and sometimes they confront a car and they get killed.

"You're not going to call a veterinarian for a deer that hit a car."

While the 79-year-old no-nonsense Iowan may seem an unlikely Twitter lover, Grassley prides himself on staying abreast of the latest technology.

"I was using TV and fax machines before a lot of other senators were, so this is just kind of an extension of the latest" technology, he said. "I try to do everything to keep in touch with my constituents, and [Twitter] is one way to make the process of representative government work."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is a modest tweeter by congressional standards, firing out 2,000 messages on his standard office account. But unlike most non-Hispanic lawmakers, the senator also maintains an Spanish-language Twitter account.

Still, there are few Twitter holdouts, including Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn.

"He always jokes that one day somebody will invent a computer easy enough that even he can use," said spokesman Patrick Newton. "He's pretty old school, he's not really big into the social media stuff."

Newton said most of Duncan's east Tennessee constituents don't rely on Twitter for news, though the lawmaker's office does maintain a Facebook page and requisite website.

Twitter "is more of a Washington thing, and he's pretty laser focused on district stuff," Newton said.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., also has yet to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, with spokesman Wiley Deck saying the lawmaker is focused more on his work with the House Oversight committee.

"He just hasn't gotten around to it yet," Deck said. "It's not that he's shying away from Twitter, it's just not on his radar."

View article comments Leave a comment