The recent trend of congressional staffers openly challenging their elected bosses marks a significant shift in the power dynamic of Capitol Hill. Some are speculating it is a deep state move.
Traditionally, the role of staff, especially interns and entry-level employees, was clear: perform your duties and maintain a low profile. However, recent developments have seen a surge in activism and advocacy among these staffers, pushing the boundaries of their roles.
Bloomberg Government reports that this newfound assertiveness among congressional staff has been driven by various factors, including the aftermath of events like the January 6 attacks and generational differences. This change is not limited to advocacy outside of their official duties but has also permeated the core functions of Congress and the Supreme Court, often through the activities of nonpartisan staff associations.
For instance, Hispanic staffers are advocating for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children, so they can work on Capitol Hill. LGBTQ+ staffers have challenged lawmakers for negative comments about the transgender community and supported legislation safeguarding same-sex marriages.
This level of activism and outspokenness is a departure from traditional staff behavior, which typically involved challenging bosses behind closed doors or through anonymous leaks to the press. Michael Thorning, director of structural democracy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, expressed concern about this trend. He suggested that exposing internal operations or deliberations could harm the institution and emphasized the need for training to help offices navigate these new dynamics.
The bottom line, as Thorning and others argue, is that staff members must either accept their boss’s decisions or find employment elsewhere. The role of a staffer is to facilitate the work of their elected officials, not to dictate policy or strategy. This shift toward more vocal and active staff participation in policy-making raises questions about the boundaries of their roles and the impact on the democratic process.
For those in positions of influence, like at the DOJ, FBI, CIA, and other areas of the federal government, the same principle applies. Their role is to support and execute the policies set by elected officials, not to steer them according to personal or political beliefs. This trend, driven by a desire to be on the “right side of history,” poses challenges to the traditional balance of power and democratic principles in Washington, D.C.