The Congressman delivers statements at a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing on the nation’s potential default crisis
Late this summer, the country was fixated on the back-and-forth between Congress and the White House. The debt ceiling needed to be addressed. Long days became even longer evenings for lawmakers; working weekends were the norm as the Hill once again found itself in the national spotlight. For some members of Congress, it was, to a degree, old hat. Seasoned politicos are familiar with deadlocked standstills, filibustering, factions divided. For others, particularly Congressmen such as David Cicilline of Rhode Island, scrutinizing the critical economic issue was an opportunity to be a cog in the wheels of lawmaking, to watch them grind to a halt, restart, grind again and, ultimately, find a common speed, and to do so for the first time. As an elected representative, he is a man with a mission who in his relatively short experience as a United States Congressman had just been a witness to some of the most electrifying debate the country has seen in quite some time. That is to say, Cicilline doesn’t know a “typical” day.
It is sometimes before dawn when the Congressman leaves his Southeast Washington apartment for his relatively small office. It is tucked inside the bowels of the Cannon House Office Building, connected, via a series of underground walkways and pint-size subway lines, to the Capitol, the Senate Office Buildings and the network of government offices that form the core of Capitol Hill. He works long days, on average 13 to 14 hours; he eats his lunch in the Cloak Room off the House floor; he sees constituents, civic leaders, members of the business community in his Rhode Island district and families of wounded soldiers; he sometimes takes counsel from his Washington staff of nine and contemplates legislation during walks through the hallowed halls of the Capitol, where he casts his votes. On a good day, he may even grab a bite to eat or meet friends at his favorite restaurant, Sonoma, but free time is a rare pleasure. Cicilline is, after all, a freshman.
One of 93 newly elected members of the 112th Congress, the former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, won Patrick Kennedy’s abandoned seat as representative of that state’s First Congressional District, and in January he settled into this new routine. To add to the stress of the job, Cicilline has had to navigate an increasingly partisan Congress, where debate rages along party lines on seemingly every topic, from healthcare to the war in Afghanistan to the aforementioned debt ceiling. Despite these challenges, Cicilline, 50 and a Democrat, by all accounts is acclimating quite well. Still, we were curious: What is it really like to step inside the lion’s den as a freshman? And just how divided is the Hill from the perspective of a new member? Cicilline is frank in his response. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with some of our nation’s most committed and thoughtful leaders on some of the most challenging issues of our time, but I am surprised at how deeply partisan the work can really be in Washington,” he says. “Despite that, I am committed to putting Rhode Islanders back to work and will continue to try to find opportunities to work across the aisle to do just that.” Little more than halfway through freshman year, it seems Cicilline is already a seasoned pro.