How to Attend a Congressional Hearing without Looking like a Freshman

Posted on Thursday, Jul 26, 2018

This summer I decided to commit to attending Congressional hearings. My first few attempts at attending hearings, I made a few key mistakes that betrayed my status as a D.C. novice. Read this post and you will hopefully look a bit more adept than I did.
The first step is figuring out when and where these hearings are. Most hearings are actually not held at the Capitol as I previously thought, but in separate buildings that are near the mall. To determine which hearing you want to go to that week, I would recommend using the website It lists all the times and locations for the Senate and House hearings that week, as well as the topic each hearing will be covering. I would then recommend researching the topic, so that unlike me, you aren’t frantically googling acronyms during the actual hearing.
Once you figure out if you’re supposed to be going to Cannon, Rayburn, Dirksen, or the actual Capitol building, the next step is to show up early. For hearings with high powered members of Congress (especially when the topic is controversial) these hearings can fill up quickly. If you’re unsure of how early to get there, you should be safe with getting there an hour early. For hearings that aren’t as controversial, thirty minutes early should be plenty of time. I got to a big hearing about thirty minutes early and ended up being sent to an overflow room to watch it on a screen, so if you’re late it’s not the end of the world, but the experience won’t be quite the same.
Also, don’t be surprised if there seem to be a group of random old men at the front of the line. These are professional line standers (yes, you read that correctly) and for 35-50 dollars an hour, they stand in line for people who have too much money to stand in line themselves. When these people trade places with their line standers they sometimes have multiple assistants with them, so one professional line stander generally equals about three people in front of you in line. Welcome to Washington.
My last piece of advice is to bring a notebook and something to write with. Taking notes helps you condense and process the information more efficiently and forces you to focus on the speakers’ words more carefully. With these tips you should be good to go, now go forth and scribe.

(P.S. There is no dress code, you can wear whatever you want! However, most people will be dressed nicely. So, if you decide to show up in your pajamas, that’s great, just don’t be surprised if you get sneers from 19-year old’s wearing business professional.)

Lexie Cooper
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Washington, D.C. | summer 2018