Who wants to be co-chairman? Me! Me!

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) is the unofficial co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus Co-Chairman Caucus. 

When it comes to leading a caucus, it seems Smith just can’t help himself. According to an informal analysis by The Hill, he tops his colleagues with 11 such placements. 

Smith’s motive? He simply wants to get things done. “What I do in caucuses, when we form, it is absolutely with an eye toward transformational policy,” he said.

Several months into the 112th Congress, caucuses of all stripes have been formed, their leadership teams set. Here’s what Smith and seven other lawmakers say about their active participation in a wide range of Congress’s hundreds of caucuses.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), 11 caucuses

• Ad Hoc Congressional Committee for Irish Affairs

• Bipartisan Bicameral Congressional Task Force on  Alzheimer’s Disease

• Coalition for Autism Research and Education

• Lyme Disease Caucus

• Congressional Caucus on Bosnia

• Congressional Caucus on Poland

• Congressional Caucus on Vietnam

• Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus

• Congressional Spina Bifida Caucus

• Global Internet Freedom Caucus

• Bipartisan Congressional  Pro-Life Caucus

Why he participates in caucuses: “It’s all about extending the knowledge base and the ownership of critical issues. No single member of Congress, House or Senate, can ever do anything alone. I’m a passionate believer in working across the aisle.”

A moving story: Two constituents came to Smith several years ago to tell him they thought their town of Brick, N.J., had an unusually high incidence of autism among its children. They sat in his office for three hours reviewing the informal survey they had done, an experience that eventually led Smith to urge the federal government to provide more money for autism research and to form the congressional caucus on autism. 

Human rights: Many of Smith’s caucuses focus on human rights, a priority that he said “grew right out of my faith and my concern for the sanctity and dignity of human life.” Smith said he believes his colleagues care about human rights, too, but he thinks “we need to have a greater appreciation of how any kind of indifference enables” human-rights violations.

If he were to form another caucus today, it would be: He has two in mind, nearly ensuring his place at the top of this list. Smith would like to form a caucus on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and another focusing on international child-abduction prevention.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), eight caucuses

• Ad Hoc Congressional Committee for Irish Affairs

• Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Caucus

• Congressional Bangladesh Caucus

• Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans

•  Congressional Friends of Liechtenstein Caucus 

• Congressional Services  Caucus

• Friends of Australia Caucus

• Rare Disease Caucus

Why he participates in caucuses: “I don’t consider myself a 100 percent kind of member; I’m more like a 200 percent kind of member … I wear a lot of hats [but] I don’t do it to collect titles. It’s more what I’m about.”

Liechtenstein? “They have a very important role to play in terms of financial services, which is important to New York.”

First caucus he joined as a member of Congress: Ad Hoc Congressional Committee for Irish Affairs.

If he were to form another caucus today, it would be: “Maybe the possibility of a Burma caucus. I don’t know if many of my colleagues know what’s going on in Burma.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), seven caucuses

• Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus 

• Congressional Caucus on Lumber

• Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus 

• Congressional Military Family Caucus

• Congressional Neuroscience Caucus

• Republican New Media Caucus

• Rural Healthcare Coalition

Why she participates in caucuses: “I find that the caucus is a great way to bring together people from different committees [and] from across the aisle to exchange information and hold briefings.”

Family ties: McMorris Rodgers’s 4-year-old son, Cole, has Down syndrome, driving a lot of her work as an advocate on Capitol Hill for people with disabilities. She said her involvement in the neuroscience caucus has to do with her desire to get more research on disability issues under way.

And White House ties: McMorris Rodgers has recently worked with first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden on Joining Forces, a new program for military families. McMorris Rodgers said her time serving on the House Armed Services Committee showed her that the issues military families face often go unnoticed.

If she were to form another caucus today, it would be: “Probably something related to energy.”

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), seven caucuses

• Congressional Aviation Safety Caucus

• Congressional Caucus on Bosnia

• Congressional French Caucus

• Congressional High Performance Building Caucus

• Congressional Historic Preservation Caucus

• Congressional Intelligence Transportation Systems Caucus

• Congressional Multiple Sclerosis Caucus

Why he participates in caucuses: “It really boils down to personal interest, but also unique things about the district. It’s another forum. I’ve been active in caucuses — in the majority and in the minority — to create some bipartisan space around the issues.”

Safety in the skies: Carnahan’s father, who was a candidate for the Senate at the time, and his brother were killed in a plane crash in 2000. “Aviation safety has been a very personal issue for me,” he says.

Bosnia caucus: “St. Louis is home to one of the largest populations of Bosnian Americans in the country. A lot of work has been done on missing persons, mass graves — many Bosnian families have missing family members. My next-door neighbor just found the remains of his father and is going back for the memorial service.”

Vive la France: “St. Louis has a really rich French heritage. It was named after King Louis. French ambassadors have visited St. Louis for trade missions.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), seven caucuses

• Ad Hoc Congressional Committee for Irish Affairs

• Congressional Albanian Issues Caucus

• Congressional Caucus on Brazil 

• Congressional Caucus on European Union

• Congressional Fragile X Caucus

• Israel Allies Caucus

• Oil and National Security Caucus

Why he participates in caucuses: “What I like about caucuses is you can do with them whatever you feel … I think it’s important to show some bipartisan agreements can still happen around here.”

Focused on foreign affairs: Most of Engel’s caucuses are focused on relations with other countries. He is one of the senior-most Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I think this is just a very good way of taking the issues in which you believe and running with them,” he said.

First caucus he co-chaired: The Albanian Issues Caucus, with former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.).

If he were to form another caucus today, it would be: “How about a Congressional Civility Caucus?” [Editor’s note: A civility caucus already exists.]

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), seven caucuses

• Congressional Caucus on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children

•  Congressional Caucus on Homelessness

•  Congressional Caucus on the Judicial Branch

•  Congressional High Performance Building Caucus

•  Congressional Research and Development Caucus

• Congressional Services Caucus

• Financial and Economic Literacy Caucus

Why she participates in caucuses: “They give you an opportunity to really look at an issue that’s not in committee. You can discuss the issues without the partisan sound bites.”

Education counts: Biggert said her family’s commitment to education led her to take interest in the education of homeless children while she served in the Illinois State Legislature. “My father always said you could do most anything you want to as long as you get a good education,” she said.

Judge-mental classmates: Biggert’s brushes with future Supreme Court justices presaged her interest in the judicial branch. She was classmates with both Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy at Stanford University. The judicial branch caucus she co-founded has invited the justices to visit the Capitol. “I remember Sandra Day O’Connor came over and said she had never been invited [before],” Biggert said. 

If she were to form another caucus today, it would be: Like Engel, Biggert would like to see a more robust civility caucus. “The last meeting I went to, I think there were three of us there,” she said, joking that “all the wrong people stayed away.”

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), seven caucuses

• Congressional Children’s Healthcare Caucus

• Congressional Global Health Caucus

• Congressional National Landscape Conservation System Caucus

• Congressional National Parks Caucus

• Congressional Olympic and Paralympic Caucus

• Congressional Services Caucus

• Law Enforcement Caucus 

Why he participates in caucuses: “It’s an education opportunity for other members who may not touch those issues.”

Once a police officer … : Reichert, a former King County sheriff, became famous for his role in catching Washington’s Green River Killer. He said the Law Enforcement Caucus organized two events last week in conjunction with the start of National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day.

Children’s health: Reichert is a co-founder of the Congressional Children’s Healthcare Caucus. “I was surprised when assigned to [the Ways and Means Committee’s Health subcommittee] to find out there was no children’s healthcare caucus,” he said. So he created one.

The great outdoors: Reichert said his interest in environmental issues stems from his being from the Pacific Northwest. He said the national parks caucus is backing a bill to get a new wilderness designation in the state’s Alpine Lakes region.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), seven caucuses

• Congressional Caucus on Wild Salmon

• Congressional Motorsports Caucus

• Congressional Rural Education Caucus

• Congressional Shellfish Caucus

• Congressional Wine Caucus 

• Military Veterans Caucus

• Rural Healthcare Coalition

Why he participates in caucuses: “Every one of these [caucuses] is very important to a lot of people in the district in which I’m so honored to represent.”

Raise your glass: The Congressional Wine Caucus is one of the most popular on Capitol Hill, but it’s all business to Thompson, who co-founded it. “Wine is made in all 50 states, and every congressional district has a large number of wine consumers. The issues are important,” said Thompson, whose district includes Napa, Lake, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. 

Revving the engine: Thompson’s interest in motor sports stems from the Infineon Raceway, also in his district. “People come from all over — I’m going to say the country, but it may be the world — to participate, either as a driver of a race or as an observer,” he said.

If he were to form another caucus today, it would be: “I’m not looking at doing any other caucuses right now.”