Founded in 1908, the Congressional Club is a foundation and museum for a pretty exclusive group: spouses of members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President’s cabinet. For decades, that meant all of the members were women. That hasn’t been true for a long time, but the organization has still never actually been lead by a male spouse. Now that’s about to change.
This month, Charlie Capito takes over as the club’s first-ever male president. The husband of West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, he will inherit leadership of the bipartisan group from Pat Engel, wife of Congressman Eliot Engel. “I’m tickled to be involved and I was happy to be asked,” Charlie tells Washingtonian. “I hope I can contribute, and if some of that’s because I’m a male then great, but that’s not the driving thing.” The job is not just ceremonial: Charlie will head up the board that actually oversees and manages the club’s affairs.
Though 127 women served in the last Congress, only about 30 of the Congressional Club’s 800-plus members are men. That’s a number Charlie wants to change. After all, being married to a political figure can be challenging no matter what your gender happens to be. A club member since 2001 and a board member since 2017, Charlie says the club has served as a key support system for him in navigating Congressional spouse-dom. He’s turned to fellow members for guidance on issues ranging from whether to move to DC full-time to protecting their children from the press. “The high-profile nature of the job changes your family dynamics whether you want it to or not,” Shelley says.
Being a male Congressional spouse does come with some specific difficulties. When the Capitos are at events, people aren’t always sure which of them is the Senator. “There are many times when we’re together that people don’t really know,” Shelley says. And Charlie recounts how early on the press would sometimes address him, not his wife, with questions. When Shelley was first elected to the US House of Representatives 20 years ago, Charlie says friends asked him, “’How are you going to do this?’ Like it was surprising that my spouse was going to have a full-time job.”
Those kinds of interactions have lessened in recent years as increasing numbers of women have been elected, Charlie says. And these days, more political spouses of both genders have their own professional careers (Charlie was a managing director at Wells Fargo until his retirement this year). For example, both Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff will be continuing their professional pursuits alongside their roles as First Lady and Second Gentleman. (Emhoff, of course, will be the highest-ranking male political spouse in our country’s history.)
For his part, Charlie says he’s always seen his marriage as a partnership, and he is comfortable taking on a supporting role both at official functions like the State of the Union (he’s never missed one) and out in the world. He’s even learned how be useful when the couple are at, say, the grocery store and his wife gets involved in a political conversation that goes on too long. “The number of people that come up to you and want to know what you’re doing on an issue is pretty analogous with what the public polls are,” he says, so those discussions aren’t unwelcome. But on the occasion that a constituent, 20 minutes into a chat, doesn’t get the hint that Shelley needs to continue her shopping, Charlie has learned to step in: “I’m occasionally called upon to set a screen in the vegetable aisle.”