When you call the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has primary responsibility for any investigations in Congress related to President Donald Trump, you get voicemail.
Here’s what it says: “If you would like to provide information or make an inquiry relating to President Donald Trump, please press 1.”
If you press 1, this is the message you receive: “Because of high call volume, we are unable to answer your call at this time.” If you leave your name, number and “any information you would like to provide,” the caller is promised their message will be “reviewed as soon as possible.”
The caller is also told they can press 2 for “all other matters” or to speak with the staff of Chair Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
So far, Chaffetz’s committee says it is not planning to probe anything related to Trump as part of its oversight mandate, and despite Democratic pressure. But even if they wanted to, staffers could be overwhelmed by the feedback collected on the committee’s voicemail.
The situation on Oversight isn’t much different than the one facing other Capitol Hill offices since Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20. A flood of phone calls about the president and his early policies is jamming phone lines and causing lawmakers to set up special procedures for handling calls.
Though it’s impossible to know exactly how many callers support or oppose Trump’s actions, aides from both sides of the aisle agree that the volume of calls is up — way up — since the weekend, when the administration announced its travel ban on those from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Across the Hill, the problem is so bad that administrative officials are trying to increase the capacity of the phone lines to allow more calls to get through.
“For now, callers should wait a little while and try again if they want to complete the call,” Dan Weiser, communications director for the House’s Chief Administrative Officer, wrote in an email.
But that might be hard.
On Monday, busy signals greeted callers trying to reach Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Calls to the offices of Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, rang through, then dropped. Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., directed callers straight to voicemail.
Aides attributed all these issues to technical problems related to the high volume of calls.
“The phones have been hot for the last couple of weeks,” Sanders spokesman Josh Lewis-Miller said in response to an inquiry.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., too, appears swamped. “We’re sorry, but your call cannot be completed at this time,” said an automated message. “Please hang up and try your call again later.”
Lawmakers insist that using voicemail is not a move to ignore calls. But for some, the way the phones are being answered — or not answered — has become a liability.
On Oversight, the situation has happened before — in mid-November, the committee was overwhelmed with calls after several viral Facebook posts calls for it to launch an investigation into Trump’s finances.
Take Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who is on the defensive over claims by Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., that his D.C. office has been turning off its phones.
“This is a disturbing/ongoing trend,” Moore tweeted Monday. “I’ll do my best to help constituents reach [Johnson] for casework but there’s only so much we can do w/ legislative jurisdictions.”
Johnson replied less than an hour later. “Our phones are certainly on & being answered,” he wrote on Twitter. “We’re here for all Wisconsinites.”
We tested the line just to make sure.
The first call to Johnson’s office at noon on Tuesday produced a fast busy signal, indicating the number could not be reached. A second call went to voicemail.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Elise Viebeck