Ex-House member’s solution for divided Congress: Sing more

Former Rep. James Symington (D-Mo.) says a little song could have the 113th Congress singing in perfect — or at least better – harmony.

The four-term ex-congressman who performed country and folk music on radio and TV in the 1950s says he used to sing to his colleagues in Congress.

“I sang all my life, from school on… I used to go to [former House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s (D-Mass.)] office on St. Patrick’s Day,” Symington — who made an unsuccessful 1976 bid for the seat of his retiring father, former Sen. Stuart Symington (D-Mo.) — exclaimed to us at his Thursday retirement party from the downtown Washington law firm Nossaman LLP.

Symington, 85, then gave ITK a sampling of his vocal chops, crooning a few lines from the Irish classic, “Danny Boy.”

“We sang a lot,” he says. “And that was good. Come on, there’s nothing better than sitting around with like-minded guys and singing the old songs.”

Lamenting the division among current House members, Symington says, “I think the Congress works well when the members get to know each other off campus.”

He remembers a time when lawmakers would do more than just belt out a tune together: “Both Republicans and the Democrats had their own hot dog stands. ... On the Republican side there’s a little cubbyhole and you’d go in there and get your hot dog. The Democrats had one too. And occasionally you’d break bread from another guy from another party. Those were great days.”

The “great days” are fond memories for Symington, who also served as chief of protocol under former President Lyndon Johnson: “I pray to the old problem of remembering things as they were, saying they were better. Darn it, I think they were better! Because there was a great deal of camaraderie at that time.”

Despite his retirement, the octogenarian plans on staying involved in politics, and has some tips for anyone seeking public office: “My advice to youngsters is don’t go to Congress unless you have something else you can do. It’s not a living. It’s an opportunity.”

From left: Former Sen. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.), former Rep. James Symington (D-Mo.), and Henry Cashen. / Photo: Lula Ivey/Nossaman LLP