What does a member of Congress do?

Members of Congress (MOC) represent the people of their state or district in the United States Congress by holding hearings and developing and voting on legislation. Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. All bills must pass both houses of Congress before they can go to the President to be signed into law.
What are the qualifications to run for office in the House of Representatives and Senate?

The requirements are found in Article 1 of the Constitution:

House of Representatives

  • 25 years of age
  • A citizen of the United States for at least 7 years
  • At the time of election, must be a resident of the state
  • U.S. Senate
  • 30 years of age
  • A citizen of the United States for 9 years
  • At the time of election, must be a resident of the state

How many members of Congress are there?

There are a total of 535 Members of Congress. 100 serve in the U.S. Senate and 435 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

How long do members of Congress serve?

Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms and are considered for re-election every even-numbered year. Senators however, serve six-year terms and elections to the Senate are staggered over even years so that only about 1/3 of the Senate is up for re-election during any election.

How many members of Congress come from each state?

Each state sends two senators to represent their state in the U.S. Senate. However, in the House of Representatives, a state’s representation is based on its population. For example, smaller states like Vermont and Delaware have one representative while large states like California have 53 representatives. Currently, the Michigan Congressional Delegation is composed of 14 representatives in the House and two Senators in the U.S. Senate.

How many people do representatives and senators represent?

Each member of the U.S. House of Representatives represents a portion of their state known as a Congressional District, which averages 700,000 people. Senators however, represent the entire state.
How do the House and Senate chambers differ?

In the House of Representatives, the majority party holds significant power to draft chamber rules and schedule bills to reach the floor for debate and voting. In most cases, House rules will limit debate so that important legislation can be passed during one legislative business day. In the Senate, the majority party also has the power to schedule when various bills come to the floor for voting. However, a single Senator can slow legislation from coming to the floor for a vote. Debate in the Senate is not concluded until 60 senators vote for a cloture motion to approve a bill for consideration. Therefore, the majority party must also coordinate with the minority to set the rules for debate on legislation. Under this system, legislation can be debated for one or two weeks on the Senate floor alone.

Why does Congress use the committee system?

Congress deals with a variety of different policy issues and it is more efficient to have work done at the committee level than on the House or Senate floor. In addition, this system allows members to gain expertise in specific issue areas they are interested in. Throughout history, committees have been created to address particular issues before Congress. The House has 23 committees while the Senate has a total of 20 committees.

What kind of communication with my congresspersons is most impactful?

The more personal, the better. A postcard is better than not engaging at all, a letter is better than a postcard, an email is better than a letter, and a phone call is better than an email. An office visit is the absolute best way to be heard. Form letters and scripts should be avoided although one will often be provided by Together We Will as a starting point, because we know that many of our members need that example.

  • You want your story to stand out and make a personal connection. Members of Congress will cite volume of letters, calls, emails, phone calls, and visitors to their colleagues. They also use personal constituent stories to illustrate the effect of a policy or law on people. This human interest aspect resonates.
  • Your two senators, and your U.S. representative are the only MOC that you should be contacting. The best thing you can do to oppose or support what another senator is doing is to contact YOUR senator and tell them that you want them to either oppose or support their colleague and why.
  • It is important to understand who is in charge of what. It is not helpful to contact your U.S. representative about cabinet appointments since those are handled by the Senate. While it is important for your senator to hear your views, you have MUCH more influence over your representative. Each state has two senators who represent the entire state, but your representative only represents around 700,000. Also, they are re-elected every two years, whereas senators have six-year terms. This means that your representative is always under pressure to listen to constituents or be voted out. Your goal is to get on a first name basis with your representative.

What other tips should I keep in mind?

While MOC need to listen to their constituents in order to get re-elected, there are no formal laws or rules about if or how they communicate with constituents. Consider this: if we were to flood senators from Georgia with calls from California, it would be very easy for them to not engage and then release an announcement stating that because of the flood of calls from outside the state, they are unable to hear from constituents, making the action counterproductive.

  • Many of the calls to action that are circulating on Facebook contain misinformation — from incorrect phone numbers to the given contact person not having anything to do with the issue at hand. “Copy and Paste” is the new chain letter. These should be disregarded. There has been some speculation that many of these are started by trolls as a means of distraction. When you receive an official call to action from Together We Will USA, you can feel confident that it has been researched and verified.
  • Never assume that you don’t need to worry about what your MOC is doing or that your MOC doesn’t want to hear from you — they do. Whether your MOC is from your political party or not, keep up the pressure, and remember that they do not disregard their constituents from other parties. Republicans typically make calls to their MOC 8 to 1 over Democrats and closer to 11-1 on controversial issues.
  • State and local officials matter, and in many ways affect your daily life more than the federal government. Playing the long game and getting candidates into state and local government, to then climb the ranks, is a strategy that has served the parties and groups that use that strategy well. Sometimes the federal government is so far removed from local issues that they don’t take noticeable interest, but it is difficult to ignore people in your own neighborhood, town, or city.
  • If you are planning to visit your member of Congress, check out this resource:Face-to-Face With Congress: Before, During, and After Meetings With Legislators”