House reading clerks - past and present

The Hill recently interviewed retired reading clerk Paul Hayes and his replacement Susan Cole to learn more about the idiosyncrasies of reading to Congress.


Susan Cole

How long have you been doing this?
One week. I haven’t read anything yet. I have to go to a speech person [to have coaching on] the way I articulate and project.

When will you begin reading on the floor?
Depends on the timing, but [it may be] sometime in August, most likely September, before I stand up and speak. Appropriations [season] is the hardest time for the reading clerk. Right now I’m just observing.

Did you have to audition?
Yes. I kind of put my name in a hat and got a phone call for an audition.

What’s the process like?
The audition lasted three minutes. I read four different pieces of legislation: a resolution, [an] amendment, a handwritten amendment, a presidential message and a bill.

Do you have any history in public speaking?
For nine years I was the reading clerk for the Financial Services Committee, which is the second largest committee on the Hill.

Have you ever taken voice classes?
I’ve never had any voice work. I have taken diction classes on my own time for six months.

Do you smoke?
No.

Do you need glasses to read?
I wear contacts.

Did you ever make any mistakes reading bills for the Financial Services Committee?
Oh, sure. I’m human. My goal was always to get through a markup without making a misstep.

What will you do in your down time? Play Sudoku? Crossword puzzles?
I’ll probably have to pick up one of those two. In my previous job I didn’t have any down time per se.

Do you have a favorite word that you like to read out loud?
Can’t say that I have a certain one …

What’s the latest you ever worked for the Financial Services Committee?
Maybe midnight or 1 a.m.?

Do you have a favorite Speaker?
No, I don’t.

Are you a Republican?
Yes.

Do you have a pick for the White House in 2008?
I’m not going to comment on that.

Do you have a favorite author?
Can’t say that I have a specific author … I like to read things by Abraham Lincoln. Things he said are still pertinent today.

Where did you go to school?

Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. I played basketball and softball there.

Paul Hayes

How long were you the Republican reading clerk?
19 years.

Who is your greatest political influence?
Barry Goldwater. I was raised to be a Democrat. I started paying attention to the issues, politics … just about the time Goldwater was prominent. Because of him [I thought], “I must be a Republican.”

What was your favorite moment on the House floor?
Probably in early 1988, not more than three or four months on the job, [when I read] the full text of a resolution to Lady Bird Johnson … They weren’t my words, but I really put myself into it and the reaction was to be expected. It was one of the warmest, nicest moments on the House floor.

What is your least favorite moment?
Any night of special orders.

What is the latest you ever stayed?
All night, at times. [Once I started at] 10 a.m. and the session lasted until 4 or 5 p.m. the next afternoon.

Who is your favorite Speaker of the House?
Oh, I’m not going to take sides on that. All the Speakers I worked for were good people.

Where did you go to school?
Georgetown [University’s] school of foreign service.

Have you ever taken voice lessons?
Yes and no. [I had a] stroke eight years ago. I totally lost my voice. I had a paralyzed vocal cord. Nobody understands how or why I can talk. I shouldn’t be able to talk. [I worked with doctors at the George Washington Medical Center.] It wouldn’t have happened without them. I give them credit.

What do you do to keep your voice strong?
I take antihistamines to keep my throat as clear as possible. If I catch cold I will lose my voice for five weeks. If it’s cold outside I can’t go outside without a hat on and an overcoat. After the stroke, I don’t feel hot and cold anymore.

Have you ever made any mistakes reading on the floor?
I was off by several hundred million dollars on an appropriations bill. I dropped a zero. You should have seen the people come running. It came out [of my mouth] $4 million and it should’ve been $4 billion. I’m not infallible.

Since you had a unique viewpoint of Congress, do you remember any particular expressions or reactions?
Pretty much limited to rolling eyes or [a] “Did that person really say that?” sort of reaction. When it was something controversial, [there was] a lot of hooting and hollering.

Who would you like to see win in 2008?
Fred Thompson is a good candidate.

I hear that you smoke cigarettes; what brand do you smoke?
Camel filters.

Do you wear glasses?
Yes, for distance.

Did you have to audition?
Yes and no. I was asked by the clerk of the minority leader to apply for the job. All applicants go through auditions.

What was your favorite word to read aloud?
I don’t know. [Reading private bills], I had to read all those [bill] titles [that] had this long string of unpronounceable names. There was a Greek woman [with the last name] Vassiliaki or Vacalopoulou. It’s got a rhythm to it and it’s poetic.