Skip to content

Why a Former Staffer Could Make a Good Speaker

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., in the course of two decades, has risen from congressional staffer to the speakership.  

His first job was working as an aide to Sen. Bob Kasten, R-Wis., on the Senate Small Business Committee. After a stint at the Empower America think tank, a 25-year-old Ryan — described as a “boyish, policy-wonk” — returned to Capitol Hill to work for Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, in both the House and Senate, according to CQ Roll Call’s Politics in America. He did what many young Hill staffers do every year: master policy and politics while working on Capitol Hill.  

Eighty-two current members of Congress served as congressional staffers, according to the CQ Members database. Like them, Ryan parlayed his time as a staffer to a successful run for office . Members of Congress having served as staff is not new , but the speaker who has served as a staffer is in a unique position to manage hundreds of ambitious members of Congress.  

Here’s why:  

1. Staffers understand process.   As speaker, Ryan will have to manage the legislative process in the House, and his training as a staffer is likely to serve him well in providing a detailed understanding of the rules required and the semantics needed for a job well done.  

2. Staffers understand deadlines. Not all members of Congress realize time is not a limitless commodity (and some may understand this, yet choose to ignore it). But staff understand that each item of assigned work has someone toiling away with an often-pressurized deadline looming. A speaker who understands the need to create and adhere to deadlines may be highly effective in getting work done.  

3. Staffers understand other staffers. Ryan, having served as a staffer himself, is likely to understand the concerns, needs and drives of staffers and attract and retain talent accordingly. Nearly 70 people work for the Office of the Speaker , roughly three times the size of an average congressional office. Managing a cohesive team that works well together is crucial for an effective speakership.  

4. Staffers understand members. A good staffer perceives the needs of his or her member of Congress before the member can even articulate what it is he or she is looking for. A speaker is expected to bring disparate factions of his party together, then search for some compromise with the other party (followed by a compromise with the other chamber and executive branch). A strong understanding of what motivates a member of Congress and what incentives can bring warring sides together will go a long way toward legislating and restoring overall harmony.  

5. Staffers work hard, and often love what they do. While much
ink has been spilled about staffers leaving Capitol Hill or being fed up with the politics, Ryan’s decision both to work on the Hill and then come back as a member indicates some appreciation for Congress. Myriad workplace experts agree: Rewarding work produces some of the best results, which bodes well for a staffer/speaker-led House.  

David Hawkings contributed to this report. 
Correction 8:15 p.m. A previous version of this article misstated Ryan’s unique status and which chamber Brownback was in when Ryan went to work for him.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

Recent Stories

Jackson Lee files to run again after losing race for Houston mayor

Special counsel takes Trump immunity issue to Supreme Court

Hispanic Caucus warns Biden, Democrats on potential border deal

Indigenous peoples’ dissenting views on Arctic drilling fuels debate

Baseline metric offers Democrats hope for retaking the House

Rothenberg’s best and worst of 2023