One of the fringe benefits of the DeLay Rule brouhaha is that it has exposed the sheer level of disorganization, absenteeism and management deficiency that seems to prevail in the 230+ offices that make up the House Republican caucus. Again and again, TPM-reader-constituents would tell us that for days on end staffers were unable to make contact with their given representative. In other cases, messages to contact him or her to find out their vote on the DeLay Rule would again and again go missing. Equally troubling, in many offices the staffer authorized to comment on the DeLay Rule would be 'away from his/her desk' or 'at lunch' for days on end.
One of the most serious cases appears to be the office of Rep. John Sweeney from Upstate New York.
On Thursday afternoon, reader Chris S. told us: "I called the congressman's office this morning and the staffer said he did not know how the congressman voted. I just got off the phone again and was told that the congressman had been in meetings all day and he didn't yet have an answer for me. When he does, I'll let you know."
Early the next morning, though, things seemed little better, according to reader Jeff C.: "Just called Rep. Sweeney's office (NYState) and after being put on hold for 2 mins, told the staffer that normally handles that question is out and will call back." A short time later, Donald Z. did little better: "I was told that the DeLay rule was a closed vote and that no one has had the opportunity to ask the Congressman how he voted. They took my address and said that the office would respond by mail."
By late Friday morning it seemed Rep. Sweeney was nowhere to be found. Brucie R., who had first called Thursday, followed up with his Friday efforts: "I called John Sweeney's (NY-20) office again this morning at 9am. Left an answering machine message and said I'd call again. Did so at 9:30am, asked for Ian, the person I've been talking to, and Ian said that Sweeney was out all day yesterday so that's why he doesn't know yet how he voted, but that he should have an answer 'in a couple hours' -- said he should know 'early afternoon.'" A few hours later a female Sweeney staffer told Bruce: "None of us here know. The Congressman has been busy with the omnibus bill. Ian doesn't know yet either. None of us know. That's what we're telling everyone. Should we call you when we know?" And then before the end of the day Brucie tried one more time: ""We still don't know. We're trying to find out. We have a long list of people to call when we find out."
By the end of the day Friday we could see a definite pattern developing. And our impression got some confirmation when Jon St. gave us a wrap-up of his efforts on Saturday ...
I live in Sweeney's district, and emailed him a couple of days ago asking about his vote on the DeLay Rule. I have received no response. I called the Washington office yesterday morning and was told, after a bit of delay, that "the person who can answer that question for you is out of the office, and we don't expect her back until late afternoon." I called again late yesterday afternoon. It was clear that by that time they had gotten a few calls on the matter, and had a pat answer. They told me (my paraphrase), "We don't know how he voted at this point. He was in a closed voting session all day and we haven't been able to ask him about it yet. Please provide your name, address, and telephone number, and we'll call you as soon as we know." I did provide my contact information, but haven't heard a peep.
By today a few constituents were actually starting to grow worried. TPM reader Casey M. called repeatedly last week and today she wrote in with a rough recitation of how one of her calls went today. We join the call in progress after a Sweeney staffer tells Casey that they still haven't seen Rep. Sweeney ...
Me: Nobody has seen him? Aren't you getting concerned about him? You must be ready to notify police if no one has seen or spoken to him in what, four or five days now?
[staffer]: Well, I don't have an answer for you Casey.
Me: Why is that [staffer]?
[staffer]: I don't know, I just don't have an answer. Can you hold?
Me: Sure. (( crickets ))
Me: No, it's Casey.
[staffer]: Oh, sorry, Casey, I'm going to put you into The Chief of Staff's voicemail and he can get back to you on this.
Me: [staffer], why is so difficult to get an answer to a simple yes or no question after five days do you think. I mean, we are through the omnibus bill for now, and that was the reason you gave me last time we spoke. Why is this hard do you suppose?
[staffer]: (getting annoyed now). I don't know Casey but I am going to put you into [CoS's] voice mail and you can talk to him.
[CoS] voicemail: Hi this is [CoS]. I will be out of the office from Nov. 22 through Nov. 26th. Please leave me a message....[blah, blah, blah]
Hmmmmmm. Time to call [staffer] back. I call [staffer] back and I am put into her voice mail. I call [staffer] back and speak to [staffer #2]. I tell [staffer #2] that I am trying to call [staffer #1] back because she put me into [CoS's] voicemail and I need to get an answer
On hold: trying to transfer. Wow, I got cutoff!! Calling again, I ask to talk to [staffer #1] ... please put me on hold....oops, after three minutes on hold they put me back into [CoS's] voicemail. Oh dear, time to call back. Hi, is [staffer #1] there? I don't mind holding...What [staffer #1] stepped away from her desk? You know, I just called and she was on her phone, and I'm starting to think she's avoiding me....Sure, I can hold ..[wating for four or five minutes...] Casey, it's [CoS], I'll have an answer for you in a minute.
Me: Oh okay [CoS], thanks.
So here's the upshot. They called [CoS] on vacation in [vacation place] to get an answer an make sure it was okay to give out that answer. From the staff, it's a yes. Not so much loud and proud, as whispering from a distance. Say, from-Seattle-type distance.
Now it was their turn to question me....how do I feel about the matter. I told them, blah, blah, blah, and then debated the staff into a corner and got bored and said I had to go wash my socks. Okay, I made up the socks part, but my three year old conveniently started begging for popcorn, and Motherhood calls.
So that's the story.
We hear some local media may be reporting soon that Sweeney's a DeLay Rule man. We'll let you know when we hear more.