If you want a friend in Washington, it is said, “get a dog.” Truman was onto something, as my wife and I recently acquired a dog. And when it comes to summer in Washington, pretty much all people do is sit around and play with their dogs.
That’s because nothing happens in August in Washington. Congress goes back to their home states, or in the case of the many presidential contenders, to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
By law, at least, the August Recess is mandated, though the beginnings and end vary each year. And with Republicans controlling Congress, now, in the Senate, at least, the chamber is kept in a pro-forma state to prevent recess appointments. (A practice that became popular late in George W. Bush’s second term.)
Interestingly, the recess was largely about heat. Washington, built on a swamp, is a miserable place to be in August. Yet, tens of thousands of Americans flock here, kids in tow, to see the sites just before school starts again. And before the advent of modern air conditioning, doing the nation’s business was difficult to do in August. In fact, according to the Senate Historian, diplomats stationed in Washington were provided “hardship pay for enduring Washington’s oppressive summer heat.” Truth be told, it’s not that bad, but back then pretty much everyone wore very heavy clothing.
However, in the late 1920s, the Senate had its own primitive air conditioner system set up by the Carrier corporation.
A tower — still visible today — was set up to funnel in air through a tunnel via large fans, to move over ice and into the upper body. Of course, that tunnel is long-sealed, but if you ever visit, the small Senate rotunda still has the original grate on the floor. Walking over it, air still moves through it.
Citizens are usually quick to mock the concept of August recess, and who can blame them? Congress hasn’t been popular in decades, and it’s an easy tradition to joke about. But on a serious note, it is a time when — unless your federally elected officials are running for President — they go back to spend time with family, friends, and meet with you.
If you, or a group of concerned citizens want to meet with your elected official in person (and not an aide) to discuss issues important to you, August recess is the time to do it. So mark your calendar for next August!
Jim Swift is a journalist in Washington, D.C., with roots in western Ohio. A Cleveland native, his dad is from Piqua and his mom is from Sidney. He can be reached at [email protected]