Lawmakers’ advice to freshman class: Don’t act like jerks, don't burn bridges

Two House lawmakers on Thursday offered some simple advice to the freshman class: Be nice and work hard.

During a breakfast hosted by The Hill, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said, “Being nice goes a long way. People don’t like to help jerks.”

Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) echoed Wasserman Schultz’s remarks, explaining how to succeed in Washington: “Don’t make things personal. I encourage members not to burn bridges.”

The breakfast was sponsored by America’s Beer Distributors and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.

Wasserman Schultz, who is serving her fourth term, said, “Nothing is more important than work ethic.”

The Florida legislator said she understands she won’t triumph in every political debate, but added, “I’m not going to lose because I got outworked.”

Humility goes a long way on Capitol Hill, according to Schock.

“You never know when the minority is going to become the majority,” the 29-year-old lawmaker said, adding he is enjoying life in the new House majority.

Schock, serving his second term, said freshmen should both challenge and seek the counsel of their House leaders.

“Don’t be afraid to ask leaders for their time,” Schock said.

The freshman class of 2010 is the largest in more than six decades. Asked if he can put names to the faces of his 87 new GOP colleagues, Schock laughed and responded, “No.”

Wasserman Schultz, on the other hand, smiled and said, “Yes. Because there are only nine” new Democrats.

Like Schock, Wasserman Schultz served previously in the House minority, which she dubbed the “lowest form of life there is.”

Still, as a freshman member in the minority, Wasserman Schultz — with the help of then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — moved a bill in the 109th Congress that established May as Jewish American Heritage Month.

Before DeLay endorsed it, Wasserman Schultz personally urged members to co-sponsor it, subsequently attracting a majority of the lower chamber.

She pointed out that some members use their time on the House floor in between votes to catch up with their friends and enjoy some down time.

But she urged freshmen to use that time to get bill co-sponsors, saying she has a “To do” list every time she goes to the floor.

Schock said many House legislators came to Congress on a platform that “lobbyists are a bad thing.”

The Ways and Means Committee member warned against painting K Street with such a broad stroke. That position is in sharp contrast to how President Obama, a former senator from Illinois, has dealt with the lobbying profession.

During town halls in his Illinois district, Schock said, he tells people that they all have lobbyists in Washington.

“Every one of your constituents are represented by lobbyists,” he said, noting that farmers, teachers, insurance brokers and many other professions have lobbying groups giving voice to their concerns.

“These people have an enormous amount of wisdom about how legislation will affect your constituents,” he said.

Schock said casework for constituents, such as helping someone get Social Security disability payments, doesn’t attract headlines, but is “the key to reelection.”

It is extremely important for members to hire qualified staffers to work on these issues, which Schock says are brought up more by constituents than national policy matters that are pending in Congress.