DC Lingo

Every occupation or field of study has its own terminology or jargon, and the political world of Washington, DC is no exception.  Since many of these terms have entered my regular vocabulary, I thought I’d provide a translation key for everyone who has to deal with me upon my return.  Some of the terms are very helpful even outside of DC.

Reach out to:  Contact, usually via telephone or email.  The first time I heard this one I envisioned extending my arm somehow, but reaching out to someone is rarely done through physical interaction.  I almost never get told to call a person, I’m told to reach out to him or her.

Loop In: To include, or to add someone to a conversation.  “Reach out to this person, and then loop me in when you’ve got a meeting set up.”

Bay Window:  This is a verb in our office, as in, “I’m going to have to bay window this meeting.”  Especially during March Madness, our two conference rooms were booked constantly, and often there simply wasn’t conference room space to take a meeting.  The Russell Senate Office Building is particularly fortunate to have old-style architecture with lots of charming nooks and crannies.  The favored space for taking a meeting if there is no available conference room space is a bay window down the hall that has a lovely view.   There is a second nearby window that also gets used for this purpose.

The Bay Window is a primo spot for meetings

The Bay Window is a primo spot for meetings

I get it:  Used as shorthand for “you are preaching to the choir.”  It’s a combination of I’m on board, I’m on your side, and I understand what you are saying.

Ask (n):  When a constituent or a lobbyist comes in for a meeting, he or she should have a request, which is generally known as the ask.  The ask should be very clear to all parties.  When I was dealing with one of my Darling Daughters at one point this summer and she was rambling on and on, I felt myself wanting to interject, “What’s your ask, kid?”

Bandwidth:  A combination of time and focus as in, “Laura, do you have the bandwidth this afternoon to put together a vote rec?”  It’s possible to have time but be fried or to have focus but not have time, which is why I like the concept of bandwidth.

There there:  The presence of an actionable policy idea, not to be confused with a murmur of comfort.  “Please read this study and tell me if there’s a there there.”  This one always makes me smile.

Heavy Lift:  An action requiring considerable effort.  I think of large bills such as immigration or the Water Resources Development Act as being heavy lifts because they require more energy and bandwidth than a single office or pair of offices can provide.  Often there are extensive negotiations to determine what is acceptable to multiple parties. Multiple staffers and multiple senators must participate to make progress and achieve an acceptable compromise.  A heavy lift can also be a project requiring extensive time and effort or political capital on the part of a single person.  A Ph.D. dissertation is a heavy lift.

In the weeds:  Before coming to DC, I’d heard people talk about giving a “view from 30,000 feet” in terms of giving a broad overview.  In the weeds is the opposite and refers to the nitty gritty details of an issue.  Nerds are notorious for enjoying being in the weeds.  See Deep Dive.

Deep Dive: An intentional discussion or presentation of the fine details of an issue.  Being in the weeds is often accidental.  Deep dives are intentional.

Leg:  If you are not in DC, you read that as a body part.  If you are in DC, you read that as “Ledge,” because it is short for “Legislative.”  So Leg Council is read as “ledge council” short for “legislative council.”

Cloakroom: Originally used as places for the Senators to leave their outerwear, the cloakrooms, one for each party, have become the command centers for managing action on the Senate floor.  As one example, if your Senator is delayed for a vote, it is important to call the cloakroom to let them know that he or she is coming.  Otherwise you’ll get a call from the cloakroom asking where your Senator is.

Dropping a bill:  Introducing a bill.  When you are ready to introduce a bill, you take it to the party cloakroom and give it to the clerks there.  The bill then gets entered into the system and will be assigned to a committee for action.

Red Line:  A red line version of a bill shows the edits.  It’s most conveniently done through the track changes function in Word, but it’s really helpful to see what someone wants to change.  I’m waiting for the first time when I use this term on my students.

One-pager:  This is the standard amount of information to deliver in summarizing an issue.  I’ve used it most often when I’m working on vote recommendations for amendments.  I’ll call the office of the Senator offering the amendment and ask for a one-pager about the issue.  This document is virtually always prepared in advance and is happily shared.

Keep our powder dry:  Remain uncommitted on a topic or action.

Republican TV:  On our individual televisions there are at least three different channels with feeds from the Senate floor.  There’s regular C-Span2, which is a full screen view of the action, Democratic television, which is a little different, and then Republican TV.  My whole office watches Republican TV because there is additional information about vote results, upcoming votes, and the daily schedule.  It’s also important that everyone in the office watches the same channel since otherwise you get odd echoes from the minute differences in transmission time among the broadcasts.

“I’m in!”:  This saying was adopted by the Fellows and indicates an interest in a social or special event.  For example, in response to a question of whether or not people are interested in afternoon frozen yogurt, there may be a flurry of emails saying, “I’m in!”  I love my fellow Fellows’ willingness to try just about anything.



Filed under Work

2 responses to “DC Lingo

  1. Heather Pence

    I get “looping in” and “bandwidth” a lot at work as well. But I do like the unfettered enthusiasm of “I’m in!”

  2. George Reiner

    It sounds like you had an incredible time in DC! Thanks for sharing it.

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