This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Bashing Congress is a deeply cherished American birthright. But I have never been among those who are quick to knock the institution or its members for supposedly taking too many days off.
Any member of Congress who is even half-way devoted to the job is never really off the clock.
Yes, there are too many pricey junkets paid for by the taxpayers or, worse, by corporate persons. But a lot of those days and weeks when Congress is not in session are spent back in the home states and districts, and not all of that time is devoted to groveling at fund-raisers.
Time truly touching base with the home folks should not be a black mark on a congressman's record. If anything, it should provide at least a little resistance to the go-along-get-along ways of the capital city.
Sometimes extreme case in point: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
Going back over the last several weeks at least, there is reason to believe that the 3rd District representative acts, speaks, maybe even thinks, differently when he is among us than when he succumbs to the vapors of Capitol Hill.
(People saw the same thing in old Bob Dole, long-time senator, who could be viciously partisan in Washington but became a total kitten when he was back home in Russell, Kan.)
For example, Chaffetz's somewhat brave statement that he would not vote for the eventual winner in the presidential election came when he was here in Salt Lake City, right on live TV at Fox 13.
That's when he told the world that he wouldn't be able to look his 15-year-old daughter in the eye if he were to vote for a man who, we had all just learned, bragged about a propensity to commit sexual assault.
Only after he was back in D.C. did Chaffetz backtrack, trying to explain how he still wasn't endorsing the GOP nominee, but would vote for him anyway.
More recently, also in Washington, Chaffetz denied Democratic demands, and basic decency, saying he wasn't interested in his House Oversight Committee conducting any "witch hunts" of the new administration, despite the long list of apparent conflicts and nefarious influences.
For that, the Utahn was properly excoriated by pundits across the spectrum, drawing a particularly detailed condemnation from the überwonks at Vox.com. (Who, in turn, credited The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board for being properly appalled at Chaffetz's willingness to put party loyalty over the constitutional balance of powers.)
And just the other day, Chaffetz was a little bit awed, as most people would be, of getting his first Oval Office face-to-face with the commander in chief himself.
He told Politico later that the president immediately forbade any talk of congressional oversight (which actually seems appropriate) and wanted to talk about the Bears Ears National Monument and post office reform.
That was enough to earn Chaffetz a good chunk of Stephen Colbert's Wednesday night monologue. That's where Colbert referred to Chaffetz as "seductive beaver" through we all know he's a groundhog and noted that the president was of course interested in post office matters because he wanted to know the proper postage to mail back Chaffetz's, well, the male version of that part of the female anatomy himself once bragged about grabbing.
Then, presto chango, Chaffetz is back in Utah. He meets with a group of local Muslim leaders, as he has here at least twice before. He goes through the loyal motions of supporting administration moves to frustrate the movement of terrorists, but says he stands against any Muslim ban or other "religious litmus test."
On TV hook-ups back to Washington, Chaffetz downplayed the president's angry tweets about how a big upscale department store chain had dumped his daughter's fashion line. That's what "a doting father" might do, Chaffetz said.
(Chaffetz apparently didn't think of the parallel, but Harry Truman's really vitriolic letter telling off a critic who gave a bad review to daughter Margaret's singing recital is one of the things that endears him to history. Of course, because it was a personal matter, Harry wrote the letter himself, didn't mention his office, mailed it with his own stamp and did not release it to the press. It only became public when the critic, proud of himself, let it leak.)
But soon afterward, still breathing Utah air, Chaffetz joined with the ranking Democrat on his investigations committee to insist that White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway was, in the Utahn's words, "wrong, wrong, wrong," to sit in front of the presidential seal and encourage people to buy the very same line of clothing and shoes. They referred the matter to Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics, the same official Chaffetz was bagging on only recently, while in Washington, for questioning the president's many business entanglements.
Other examples of the congressman's duel personality go way back. When he comes to visit the Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, he usually has some serious, thought-out, totally wonkish plan to save Social Security, reform prison policy or fix online sales tax collections. Stuff he never mentions on Fox & Friends.
We don't have to go the evil-twin route with Chaffetz because the good stuff seems to be tied to his physical presence in Utah and the bad stuff associated with time in the echo chamber of Washington.
Chaffetz had a really rough night at a town meeting Thursday, loudly taken to task for his links to the new administration and the things he said in Washington. If he wants, he might work his way back into his constituents' good graces by staying home. Not giving up his seat, but staying home, and debating, convening, overseeing and voting via Skype. He, and we, would all be better off.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, has never been very good at working remotely. Too many distractions. firstname.lastname@example.org