The 1970 passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act codified a mandatory five-week break for members of Congress, known today as August Recess. Each year, from the first week of August to the week after Labor Day, all committee hearings and floor votes come to a halt and the Capitol virtually shuts down as lawmakers and key staff flock to airports and train stations to disperse to their home districts.
This pause opens a tremendous opportunity to engage with lawmakers in the most impactful and effective way possible. Republicans and Democrats would agree lawmakers in Congress care most about what constituents from their own districts believe. Each August, when they return home to attend town hall meetings, county fairs, Rotary Club meetings and other public events—a window opens for members of Congress to hear from those they care about the most—their voters.
During the 2010 August Recess, conservative groups took full advantage of the opportunity by zeroing in on members amidst the heated debate on health care reform. They intercepted the representatives at public events, bird-dogged them before media interviews and applied constant pressure in the form of impassioned pleas to keep their doctors at town hall meetings across the United States. These strategies effectively killed the public option and weakened President Obama’s efforts to fully overhaul our health care system. In 2013, liberal and progressive groups followed suit with their “Action August” initiative, where they pressed congressional Republicans on guns, immigration reform and climate change. These encounters made a lasting impact on lawmakers.
This year, companies and advocacy groups have an even greater opportunity. For the first time since the pandemic, many lawmakers will have the ability to meet in-person with constituents. Companies and industry groups will have the chance to weigh in on hotly debated issues like infrastructure, the border crisis, budget reconciliation, rising inflation and pandemic recovery. The length of August Recess gives these organizations a rare experience to engage multiple times in a different setting, rather than attending a quick weekend district event to speak directly with lawmakers about critical issues.
The 2021 August Recess is off cycle and members will be setting the stage for their 2022 midterm campaigns. Between slim majorities in the Senate and House and re-districting, both parties will be sensitive to outreach and advocacy efforts. Democrats have a slim majority to maintain in the 2022 elections where, historically, the midterms do not go well for the party and the Senate is split 50-50. In the House, Republicans need to flip just five seats to take control, a margin so slim that they could share a ride to their swearing-in ceremony.
Companies, trade associations and advocacy groups must seize upon the opportunities presented this August by rallying state and local grassroots and grasstops voices to engage a uniquely captive audience of lawmakers. They must take advantage of the opening to tell the story of how their industry or company improves lives, creates jobs, supports adjacent businesses and enriches the communities where they operate.
Beltway messengers can only take a message so far. Small business owners, employees, community advocates, religious leaders and the hard-working people of a member’s home district will always be the most powerful voice. Not only are these groups the ones whose votes keep members in office, they are the people that members worked alongside of and built communities with and their opinions will reverberate deeper than messaging from the most polished and well-connected D.C. lobbyist.
At APCO, our national network of field teams is ready to help make those inroads. They leverage deep relationships and an expert-level understanding of state and local public affairs at the most granular level. They know how to move the needle and get things done at critical times like this.
For one month a year, members of Congress return home proactively looking to hear from the people that matter most. Advocates must strike while the iron is hot and take full advantage of the opportunity before them.