Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: It has always been my understanding that as a general rule, federal agencies don’t really expedite an individual constituent’s “case” due simply to a congressperson’s inquiry or request. Sort of like an open secret. So this “casework” ego-battle between U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards and former Congressman Madison Cawthorn — and now Sen. Thom Tillis — seems especially ridiculous. Who actually contacts their congressperson for “help?” And why? What sort of personal assistance is a congressperson expected to offer a single individual? Or what personal assistance should an individual expect to receive? What are the results of all this talked-about “casework?” Do congresspeople produce a detailed “casework” ledger or scoresheet? Is this all just a tempest in a teapot?
My answer: Well, judging from Rep. George Santos’s record in this realm, it seems pretty clear that it works. Heck, the New York Republican says he’s already helped 912,322 people in just over a month in office. I tell you, that guy is incredible.
Real answer: The reader is referring to the dust-up in January when Edwards (R-Hendersonville) publicly complained that Cawthorn, his predecessor, did not pass along constituent casework, a breach of etiquette in Congress.
In a press release, Edwards’s office stated: “The office of former Congressman Madison Cawthorn did not transfer official constituent casework, which is standard practice for any legislative transition. Due to this lack of information, Congressman Edwards and his staff have no way of knowing which constituents had ongoing casework or other outstanding federal issues. Repeated attempts to reach Congressman Cawthorn and his staff were made over the past month, but no response or action was provided.”
Cawthorn, as we’ve previously noted, now lives in Florida, where he remains politically active.
Edwards’s spokesperson Maria Kim told me Feb. 8 the office is recovering from the lack of a constituent handoff from Cawthorn.
“We already have 125 open cases, with more coming every day as word gets out that Congressman Edwards is here to help,” Kim said via email. “Due to privacy restrictions, we can’t comment on individual cases, and the number of open cases changes daily.”
Kim said some cases are resolved in a few hours while others can continue for years, “which is why continuity between outgoing and incoming congressional offices is critical.”
“What a congressional inquiry can help do,” Kim said, “is help constituents navigate often-confusing federal bureaucracy, bring to federal agencies’ attention cases that have been ongoing a long time or situations that have gone unresolved, and flagging for federal agencies time-sensitive cases.”
On a personal note, I’ve known local folks who have turned to congresspersons for help — and gotten it — on issues ranging from Social Security to veterans benefits.
I asked Western Carolina University political scientist Chris Cooper about constituent services, and if they really matter.
“I don’t think it’s a tempest in a teapot,” Cooper said. “I think of the work members of congress do here (in constituent services) as, you’re hiring an agent with your tax dollars.”
Just like someone gets a real estate agent to help them buy a house or navigate that world, that’s what some constituents do with their congressional office — get help navigating the federal bureaucracy, Cooper said.
But you won’t typically find a lot of detail on constituent service stats.
“As far as the ledger piece, they don’t produce a public ledger, so there’s nowhere you can go and see how many pieces of constituent work a member of congress does,” Cooper said.
Some individual offices will promote this, though.
Cooper also noted that the Charlotte Observer wrote a story in January noting that U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) saw an increase in constituent service requests from the 11th Congressional District, our district here in the mountains, after Cawthorn lost to Edwards in last year’s primary.
Constituent service, Cooper said, is actually pretty key if members of Congress actually want to get reelected. While some federal offices may not respond enthusiastically to requests from elected officials, plenty of them do, simply because congressmen and women have more influence than Joe Sixpack in Candler.
As far as what House representatives and U.S. senators help with, Cooper said it ranges from VA Administration benefits, to trying to get a passport expedited, to helping with student loan forgiveness applications.
“If the government touches it, people might ask a member of Congress for help,” Cooper said.
Edwards actually took constituent services a step further Feb. 9 with the announcement that he’s bringing a “one-of-its-kind mobile constituent-services office to Western North Carolina,” according to a press release.
“In his continued focus on assisting folks in North Carolina’s 11th District who need help with federal agencies, including the VA, Social Security and the IRS, as well as with passport and immigration matters, Edwards will have the only mobile constituent services office in the entire U.S. House of Representatives,” the release states.
Edwards said they’ll use a Thor Dodge Ram Sprinter Class B van to travel to all 15 counties in the 11th District. Locations and hours will be announced on Edwards.house.gov and on social media.
Question: Did all of Chuck Edwards’s sucking up to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy land him his requested seat in the Appropriations Committee? If not, should he have joined Madison Cawthorn’ ex-friends in holding back his speaker’s vote until McCarthy caved?
My answer: Look, Edwards already offered McCarthy free McRib sandwiches for life. Really, what more could a man do?
Real answer: Edwards did not land on Appropriations, as he told Asheville Watchdog he hoped to in early January. But he did score three appointments, which is pretty strong for a freshman Congressman.
Edwards is serving on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the House Budget Committee, and the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. The Republican Steering Committee, a group of GOP peers and Republican House leadership, granted a waiver for Edwards to be allowed to sit on a third committee, according to a press release from Edwards’s office.
“I am honored to serve on these three committees that will make a tangible and meaningful difference in the day-to-day lives of Western North Carolinians,” Edwards, a former state senator, said in the release. “During my time in Raleigh, I was known as a workhorse. In recommending me for three committees with heavy workloads and hefty responsibilities, my colleagues in Washington recognize that I’m there to work hard for the people of WNC and for all Americans.”
Cooper, the WCU political scientist, said “for a freshman member of Congress, he did remarkably well.”
“Edwards was able to get on committees that matter for the district and do hold some power,” Cooper said. “Also, Appropriations is, of course, important, but it’s less important than it used to be. It’s no longer the holy grail of congressional politics.”
As far as forcing McCarthy to give him a better assignment by withholding his vote for speaker, as Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene did, for instance, Cooper said that tactic is a double-edged sword. Yes, you may get a committee assignment you covet, but you also make an enemy of the Speaker of the House.
“Nobody wants to be in the cross hairs of your boss,” Cooper said.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at email@example.com or 828-337-0941.