2010 Best & Worst of Congress

Who’s the smartest member of Congress? The most eloquent? The hottest? Top aides on Capitol Hill tell all.

Partisanship runs high on Capitol Hill—one party’s hero often is the other’s villain. But not always. In some areas, true bipartisanship prevails. For example, when it comes to who’s hot and who’s not.

Even where party unity holds sway, there’s lots to learn about members of Congress from those who know them best—top Capitol Hill staffers. Every election year, we survey administrative aides, press secretaries, legislative directors, and chiefs of committee staffs for their take on the best and worst of Congress. This year, we also asked them about members of the administration. For each reply, we gave a dollar to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington or So Others Might Eat. Here are the congressional aides’ 2010 picks and pans.

Senate

Workhorse


1. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)

2. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.)

3. Tie: Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

In straight party-line votes, majority whip Durbin and departing Banking Committee chairman Dodd polled the most.

Showhorse

1. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

2. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)

3. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

The vote for the ever camera-ready Schumer was bipartisan.

Rising Star

1. John Thune (R-S.D.)

2. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

3. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

In another party-line duel, the South Dakotan (R) edged out the Minnesotan (D).

Most Eloquent

1. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)

2. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)

3. Tie: Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Durbin has been called the chamber’s “best debater,” and the late Robert Byrd’s oratorical legacy lives on.

Least Eloquent

1. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.)

2. David Vitter (R-La.)

3. Tie: Susan Collins (R-Maine), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

The retiring but hardly shy Kentucky senator is known for his impolitic comments, but his votes were all from Democrats.

Meanest

1. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

2. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.)

3. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tx.)

Mikulski and Hutchison are perennials in this category.

Nicest

1. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

2. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)

So many nice senators, so little consensus. Eight tied for third.

Funniest

1. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

2. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)

3. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

Congress has a new comedy king—at least according to Democratic staffers.

Hottie (Male)

1. John Thune (R-S.D.)

2. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

3. Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.)

At least there’s bipartisan agreement on the categories that matter.

Hottie (Female)

1. Tie: Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

2. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

3. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)

Newcomers Gillibrand and Hagan join repeat winners Cantwell and Murkowski.

Lobbyists’ Friend

1. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

2. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.)

3. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

The GOP leader won the mainly party-line vote hands down.

Lobbyists’ Enemy

1. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)

2. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

3. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

A party-line win for Feingold, still the body’s chief anti-lobbying crusader.

King/Queen of Earmarks

1. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)

2. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii)

3. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)

Atop the Appropriations Committee, where Cochran and Inouye perch, is the catbird seat. And Byrd’s other legacy lives on.

Surprise Standout

1. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

2. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

3. Tie: George LeMieux (R-Fla.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

Brown got a few Democratic votes, too . . .

Biggest Disappointment

1. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

2. Tie: Al Franken (D-Minn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.)

3. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)

. . . but Republican staffers helped put him over the top here.

Gym Rat

1. John Thune (R-S.D.)

2. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)

3. Tie: Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

How do you think Thune, Brown, and Gillibrand stay hot?

Party Animal

1. David Vitter (R-La.)

2. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.)

3. John Ensign (R-Nev.)

And we’re not talking elephants and donkeys.

Brainiest


1. Tie: John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

2. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)

3. Tie: Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.)

In party-line votes, the junior Wyoming senator—a Georgetown grad and an orthopedic surgeon—and the Rhode Island Yalie edged out the competition.

Clueless

1. Roland Burris (D-Ill.)

2. Tie: Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Al Franken (D-Minn.)

Half the votes for Rod Blagojevich’s pick to replace Barack Obama came from staffers in his own party.

Most Partisan

1. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

2. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)

3. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

According to staffers from the opposite parties, that is.

Least Partisan

1. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

2. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

3. Susan Collins (R-Maine)

A one-party sweep—on a bipartisan vote.

Best Dressed

1. Tie: Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), John Kerry (D-Mass.)

2. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

3. John Thune (R-S.D.)

The fashion plates of ’08 (Gordon Smith, Barack Obama, and John Warner) have all moved on.

Fashion Victim

1. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

2. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

3. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

This trio repeats its 2008 appearance.

Most Likely to Star in a Scandal

1. David Vitter (R-La.)

2. John Ensign (R-Nev.)

3. Roland Burris (D-Ill.)

The bipartisan consensus seems to be that lightning strikes twice.

Least Likely to Star in a Scandal

1. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)

2. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

3. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Only two votes separated first place from third.

House

Workhorse


1. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

2. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

3. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

In the midst of financial-reform debate, the Financial Services chairman polled the most votes.

Showhorse

1. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.)

2. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

3. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Repeat winner Lee and Bachmann had bipartisan tallies.

Rising Star

1. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

2. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

3. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)

Ryan and Schultz were also ascendant in 2008. Schock is the rising newcomer.

Most Eloquent


1. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

2. David Dreier (R-Calif.)

3. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

Repeat winners Hoyer and Dreier are joined by veteran congressman and civil-rights leader Lewis.

Least Eloquent

1. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.)

2. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.)

3. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

GOP staffers put the controversy-prone Brown one vote ahead of the “You lie!” utterer.

Meanest

1. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.)

2. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.)

3. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.)

Another bipartisan repeat win for the Texan.

Nicest


1. Lois Capps (D-Calif.)

2. Walter Jones (R-N.C.)

3. Tie: Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.)

The California Democrat edged out the Carolina Republican to take the top spot once again.

Funniest

1. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

2. Ralph Hall (R-Tex.)

3. Tie: Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), John Sullivan (R-Okla.)

Frank in a landslide for the umpteenth time. The Southwesterners were distant finishers.

Hottie (Male)

1. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)

2. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.)

3. Tie: Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Youth has its advantages—at 29, Schock is the youngest member of Congress.

Hottie (Female)

1. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.)

2. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.)

3. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Winners of this beauty contest all pulled votes from both parties.

Lobbyists’ Friend

1. John Boehner (R-Ohio)

2. Tie: Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.)

3. Don Young (R-Alaska)

The GOP leader outpolled the rest combined.

Lobbyists’ Enemy

1. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

2. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.)

3. David Obey (D-Wis.)

Flake, an anti-earmark crusader, was the runaway winner.

King/Queen of Earmarks

1. David Obey (D-Wis.)

2. Don Young (R-Alaska)

3. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.)

The Appropriations chairman gets what he wants.

Surprise Standout

1. Tom Perriello (D-Va.)

2. Tie: Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.)

3. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

In party-line voting, Democrats gave the Virginia freshman, who represents a red district, twice the votes anyone else received.

Biggest Disappointment

1. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.)

2. Tie: Joseph Cao (R-La.), Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

3. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.)

The “tickler” from New York resigned in March but still was the bipartisan winner/loser.

Gym Rat

1. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

2. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)

3. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

Another Republican sweep.

Party Animal

1. John Boehner (R-Ohio)

2. Tie: Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), Bill Shuster (R-Pa.)

3. Mike Honda (D-Calif.)

The good-time GOP leader polled more than twice the votes of anyone else.

Brainiest


1. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

2. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

3. David Dreier (R-Calif.)

Frank in a landslide—again.

Clueless

1. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

2. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.)

2. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.)

The ultraconservative, often provocative Minnesotan easily took top honors.

Most Partisan

1. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

2. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

3. John Boehner (R-Ohio)

For the Democrats, speaker Pelosi finished a close fourth.

Least Partisan

1. Joseph Cao (R-La.)

2. Walter Jones (R-N.C.)

3. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.)

The Louisiana freshman, the only Republican representative to support health-care reform, got votes from both parties.

Best Dressed

1. David Dreier (R-Calif.)

2. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

3. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)

The Californians are repeat winners.

Fashion Victim

1. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)

2. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.)

3. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.)

A Democratic sweep—and the top two are repeat offenders.

Most Likely to Star in a Scandal

1. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.)

2. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)

3. David Dreier (R-Calif.)

Ethics charges sealed the deal for the New York Democrat, but the “hot” and single Schock was a close second.

Least Likely to Star in a Scandal

1. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

2. Tie: Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.)

3. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

An Arizona Mormon, the chair of the House Ethics Committee, a preacher’s daughter, and the majority leader—it figures.

White House

Best Obama Administration Figure


1. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

2. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel

3. Tie: Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

Worst Obama Administration Figure

1. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

2. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs

3. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel

Person I’d Like to See Elected President in 2012

1. Barack Obama

2. Tie: Mitt Romney, John Thune

3. Hillary Clinton

This article first appeared in the September issue of The Washingtonian.

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