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Richard A. Arenberg: Staff to Senators Paul Tsongas, George Mitchell and Carl Levin

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“I always said the worst of all worlds is to be a newly elected senator with a House office, because everybody knows where to bring the resumes.”

Arenberg describes to Senate Historian Donald Ritchie the differences between setting up a new senator’s office and setting up a new representative’s office.

RITCHIE: Well, you’ve now won an election with Tsongas and he’s coming to the Senate. I was curious, having spent four years in the House, how different was it setting up an office in the Senate?

ARENBERG: Very different. I always said the worst of all worlds is to be a newly elected senator with a House office, because everybody knows where to bring the resumes. [Laughs] We were, of course, immediately inundated with them. Newly elected senators usually come to Washington and they set up house somewhere before they’re officially in office, usually in the office of somebody friendly in the delegation. When I’m giving advice to people about how to get a job with people like that, I say, “Call all the likely suspects and you’ll really stand out if you track them down while they’re hiding in another senator’s office or another congressman’s office or something. You track them down and get them a resume.” But when you’re a House member and you’ve been elected to the Senate, there’s no place to hide. They can come right in the front door and drop off the resume. We had these enormous piles. It was a huge job putting that together.

Then we started putting together the staff. At least for us we knew a lot more about what we were doing. We had been on the Hill for four years and we had a little more foundation and we were able to put together a staff pretty quickly. And Tsongas, as I’ve said, he was ready to go. He introduced the Alaska lands bill within a few weeks, I believe is my memory, after he first came to the Senate. I told you about his maiden speech. I mean he just was off and running. It was always characteristic of him. I’ll say present company excluded, but he really attracted remarkable people. We had some really outstanding staff people along the way. That was true in the House and when we got to the Senate we really were very proud of the staff that we put together.

But it was a real change. In the House, most members spend their time in the bushes. If you want to be paid attention to on any issue, you’ve got to jump out of the bushes and wave your arms over your head and then maybe if you’re lucky you’ll get some attention. The only other way is you build numbers. You start building a coalition and you get other people to jump out of the bushes with you and you become a sizable enough group that you’re hard to ignore. Senators don’t start out that way. In fact if they have a good idea, they’re more likely to hold it close to the vest until they’ve got it shaped and ready to go. They’re not running around looking for a crowd of 15 people to introduce it. They don’t need to jump out of the bushes. In fact, you can’t stay in the bushes if you’re a senator. The media and everybody are going to come beating the bushes looking for you on virtually any and every subject. So that’s a real change.

Members of the House tend to specialize on issues where they have committee assignments and they don’t have much leverage at all unless they’re in the leadership or a head of a committee or something like that. They only have any leverage at all in areas where they’ve built expertise and people look to them as knowing more than anybody else in the House about such-and-such. But they have much smaller staffs and less staff resources and so their staffs tend to be generalists. The Senate’s the other way around. Senators have to be prepared on virtually every issue to some level of sophistication. So they have more specialized staffs, larger staffs, and they tend to be more specialized.

Read Arenberg's full interview.