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Rep. Bob Bishop, R-Utah, emerges from a closed-door meeting with House Republicans after working on an approach to immigration reform, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. The GOP leadership rejected the immigration bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, saying in a statement, "House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Life in Congress — it isn’t like in the movies

First Published Aug 30 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:33 pm

Washington » It’s 8:32 a.m. on a steamy day in the nation’s capital when Rep. Rob Bishop emerges from his Capitol Hill apartment, smartly dressed in a three-piece seersucker suit. It is Seersucker Wednesday after all.

Bishop will pass several other folks donning similar white, pinstriped suits when he hits the Capitol later, but first on the agenda is bacon and quiche with members of various European parliaments.

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The Utah Republican strides into the Library of Congress, brushing past the metal detector as only members can do. He won’t come back outside for more than 12 hours.

While Americans might think members of Congress live a glamorous life — glad-handing donors, laughing it up at cocktail parties, cavorting around in black town cars — in reality, it’s more about shuttling between meetings, keeping tabs on the intricacies of a slew of legislation and maneuvering ways to pass your bills and kill the other guy’s.

Members of Congress typically head out each morning facing a packed schedule, filled with lobbyist meet-and-greets, constituent photo ops, drawn-out hearings and sometimes-dicey votes.

It’s a part of the life of a member of Congress that doesn’t show up on C-SPAN.

Like the breakfast.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, greets the crowd inside an ornate Library of Commerce room by noting that a British member had praised how beautiful the building was. Ironic, Turner says, since in the War of 1812, it was the British who burned down the original.

Chuckles fill the room of 27 officials from NATO countries, one senator and a handful of House members, including Bishop. Once the remarks have ended, the Utahn is surrounded by folks from Greece, Canada, Croatia, Great Britain and the Netherlands. Hands are shaken, cards exchanged and Bishop departs, opting to take the tunnel to his office building as the skies are pouring.

The entire Capitol complex is accessible by tunnel — if you know where you’re going. Bishop has done this only once, joking that he wanted to see how close he could get to his apartment before having to go above ground.


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"We really like your suit," giggles a young girl from Arkansas in a bright green 4-H shirt. Bishop poses for some photos and heads for the tunnel adventure. Ten minutes later, he reaches the Cannon House Office Building, his other home.

Bishop left the office at 11:30 p.m. the night before, he says, after phoning constituents who had one problem or another with the federal government. A friendly staff greets the congressman in Cannon 123 and at 9:41 a.m., Bishop pops open the first of many Dr Peppers.

"How was the breakfast?" asks Bishop’s communications director, Melissa Subbotin, as she drops into the office. Fine, he responds, as a few aides begin queuing up to chat with the boss. Bishop talks to one about an education bill and hands over talking points he got from a fellow Republican who isn’t a fan.

‘Dumb’ bill » "That’s what they sent out on why my bill is so dumb," Bishop says.

An intern brings out a letter to a constituent about sugar cane subsidies and a flat tax; Bishop suggests reworking the response to focus more on the flat-tax issue and less on sugar cane since Utah doesn’t grow the stuff. Another intern isn’t sure how to answer a constituent who is worried about immigrants in the country illegally trying to claim a tax return by citing dependents in Mexico.

Bishop, too, looks flummoxed.

"Put that in the call pile," he says, planning to later phone the letter writer for a conversation the congressman hopes will assuage his concerns.

A long, single buzzer calls out. The House is now in session.

Bishop remains in his office, checking through emails and other constituent letters, some of them a bit kooky and misinformed.

"Sometimes I just thank them for the information," Bishop says of those kind of notes. Emails, he notes, seem more anonymous for some reason and therefore can be more vicious and rude. But letters can carry a hateful tone, too.

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