By Emily Goodin - 09/09/13 11:05 PM EDT
Most House members don’t know the names of all their colleagues, and some don’t even recognize the people voting next to them. [WATCH VIDEO]
“I still haven’t learned all their names,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who is serving his third term in Congress.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) looked slightly stricken when asked how many members of the House he knew.
“Don’t give me a quiz right now,” joked Van Hollen, the former head of the House Democratic campaign arm who said he knows “100 percent” of his party.
It’s a tall order to recognize all 435 House members, especially since their composition shifts every two years with a new election cycle.
Lawmakers are also overwhelmingly white and male, which can make picking them out by name that much more difficult.
It’s not just members who struggle. Congressional staff and journalists also have a hard time matching names with faces, and often must consult apps and handbooks to figure out who’s who.
Lawmaker lapel pins help sort out the lawmakers from the administration officials or staff people moving through the halls, but the circular badge signifying lawmaker status is the only hint to a person’s identity.
Lawmakers told The Hill they get to know their colleagues in a variety of ways, from going out for pizza to working on legislation in committee.
Some say they use word associations or other memory tricks recall all the names.
“It takes time. There’s a lot of bodies. There’s 435 of us,” said Chaffetz, who counts himself as lucky because there are only four House members from his state.
In California, there are 53 names to remember just in that state’s delegation for members like Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.).
He said he gets to know his delegation by whipping legislation.
“The easiest way is if you have a way to approach folks on the floor — say you have to get a signature for a letter or for some bill,” he said, noting a bill he worked on that required him to get all the members of the California delegation to sign on to.
Chaffetz, who had dinner with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) recently, said group meals or a trip to the gym are other good ways for members to get to know one another.
“You get to know people in committee. The House gym is actually a pretty good place to get to know some folks,” he said.
He said many members frequent We the Pizza, a restaurant blocks from the Capitol where freshman lawmakers from both sides of the aisle held a pizza summit shortly after the new Congress began.
Freshmen might have the toughest assignment, with 434 new colleagues to identify upon their election.
“It’s hard,” freshman Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said. “It’s not just tackling freshmen on both sides of the aisle, but there are still members that get up at conference, and I say, ‘I think I know who that is.’ ”
She added: “Every single week that I’m up here, I learn new names and faces.”
One Democratic freshman told The Hill that there are “probably 60 and 70 percent that I would just recognize as a Democrat.”
With elections every two years, each new Congress brings a flood of new faces. The 112th Congress saw 93 new House members while the 113th put 67 fresh faces in the hallways.
“I’m in my third term, and I’m only number 240 out of 435 in three terms. When you learn them, then a new set comes in. It’s a constant battle,” said Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) said.
Lawmakers cite different ways of keeping up with and remembering their colleagues.
Harper uses “word association or sheer repetition” to learn members’ names.
Freshman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) has a variety of methods.
“Everything from the way people dress — some people here wear seersucker suits — to whether they wear glasses or not; receding hairlines, everything, all sorts of little tricks,” he said.
Most lawmakers say they know their fellow party members who they see at regular conferences. They’re less likely to know all the members in the opposing party.
Deep friendships can form over late-night votes, committee hearings and congressional trips to other countries.
Ideology can also bind lawmakers: Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) became close over their Tea Party ties.
Lawmakers from the same state delegations or similar regional areas can grow close working together on common issues.
The House Appropriations Committee is considered to be one of the closest on Capitol Hill, with genuine affection shown among members on both sides.
Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said it’s because the lawmakers spend so much time together.
“We have to pass 12 bills every year, and we hold upwards of up to 150 hearings every spring. We’re together a lot, and we’re together under tough circumstances. By its very nature, we have to be more bipartisan than most committees because we have to pass those bills,” he said.
It helps that the powerful committee, which dispenses federal dollars, is one of the most coveted assignments in Congress — meaning once lawmakers get a spot, they are unlikely to leave.
And that makes Rogers one of the most popular (and powerful) figures on Capitol Hill.
Asked if members come up to introduce themselves to him, he smiled and said, “Yes.”
Other longtime members can be picky about whose names they decide to remember.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is one of the longest-serving members at 22 terms, said he has a unique way of getting to know lawmakers.
“I have to decide whether it’s really important for me to want to learn someone’s name,” he said.