Here’s what Congress is reading at the beach this summer

People enjoy the ocean, July 16, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California
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Congress races to its August recess, attempting Olympian hurdles over “hard” infrastructure,” “human infrastructure,” reconciliation, a budget resolution, appropriations bills and other last-gasp priorities. For most of my former colleagues, the recess (if they actually get one) will be a relative paradise: no looming midterm elections, attack ads or mask-stifling plane rides between their districts and Washington. They may actually enjoy a semblance of summer.

I asked about a dozen senators and representatives what’s on their summer reading lists. Here are some highlights:

We must start with someone who knows a good book when she reads- or writes – one. Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-Ill.) “Every Day Is a Gift” is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. When I asked for her summer reading list, she sent a screen shot of her Audible selections, including one that seems entirely appropriate for our current political climate: “Calm The F*ck Down,” by Sarah Knight. For a more, well, elevated perspective of nature and the universe, Duckworth is working on Steven Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”   

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has turned to a particularly important genre this summer. “Since my husband and I are eagerly expecting our first child, we are reading recommended baby preparation books from sleeping strategies to Mayo Clinic Guidebooks!” she told me. She also mentioned former House Speaker John Boehner’s memoir, “On the House,” describing it as “a fun beach read for anyone who knows John Boehner or wants a true insider’s take on Washington. Having served in the Boehner Speakership era, my favorite parts were actually from way before my time in office when John was a newly elected renegade in the House uncovering scandals!”

If you’re the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, August is spent slogging from battlefield to battlefield. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) airplane reading will include “Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics,” which explores the psychoses of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth and King Lear, among others. (No current Member of Congress is included).

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) revealed the three titles packed in her suitcase: “Premonition” by Michael Lewis; “The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich (a Minnesotan); and “Hiking the North Shore: 50 Fabulous Day Hikes in Minnesota’s Spectacular Lake Superior” by Andrew Slade (which seems to be a good read when one is actually on a day hike in Minnesota’s Spectacular Lake Superior). 

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) is probably one of the most well-read members on either side of the aisle. “Right now I am halfway  through a splendid book by Eric Lindner, “Tiger in the Sea: The Ditching of Flying Tiger 923,” a harrowing tale of the survival of the crew and passengers of a Lockheed Constellation passenger plane that was forced to ditch at night during a storm in the middle of the North Atlantic in 1962.” Next up for Cole is a recommendation from Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas): “The Hundred Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower.” 

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is informing his work on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee by reading “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap” by Mehrsa  Baradaran. He describes it “a deep dive into the stories of Black banks and the people who organized them.” Also on his list is Daniel James Brown’s non-fiction novel “The Boys in the Boat”, about the nine American rowers who won Gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  

How do you find calm in the middle of a bruising statewide campaign for the U.S. Senate? Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan (D) will read Ryan Holiday’s  “Stillness is the Key.” His policy choice: “The Riches of This Land,” Jim Tankersley’s exploration of the decline and revival of America’s middle class.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) is considering re-reading “All the Light We Cannot See,” which he considers “one of my favorite novels ever.” Also on his list: “Endurance: Shackleton ‘s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing (1959) and Jefferson Morley’s “The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton.”

Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), for my money one of the funniest and most gregarious House Republicans, is reading “Ride The Devil’s Herd: Wyatt Earp’s Epic Battle Against the West’s Biggest Outlaw Gang.” Long said, “I like post-Civil War history especially about the west. [Earp] spent time in Lamar, MO in law enforcement.” Oh, he also pointed out an “Interesting chapter here on how the Democrats rigged and stole an election for Sheriff in Pima County AZ in 1880 ironically enough.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has an eclectic list, from “Fundamentals” (quantum mechanics) to “The New Anti-Semitism.” Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) is reading “From A Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement” by Paula Yoo. New House member Richie Torres (D-N.Y.) will spend time on Jonathan Rauch’s “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of the Truth” because, he said “In the age of social media, we increasingly no longer know what it means to know.”

Then there’s my former colleague – now Washington governor – Jay Inslee. He demonstrated a strategic knack for book promotion by texting his summer selections: “Apollo’s Fire” and “Big Guns,” authored respectively by, well, Jay Inslee and Steve Israel. He sensibly added David Montgomery’s “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization.”

That was as close as anyone came to dirty politics.   

Steve Israel represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. Follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Billy Long Boehner Chris Van Hollen Elise Stefanik Grace Meng Jay Inslee Jerry Nadler John Boehner Seth Moulton Steve Israel Tammy Duckworth Tim Ryan Tom Cole

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