More than 60 members of Congress just say no to Twitter’s 140 characters

Sixty-eight members of Congress have not joined Twitter, the social media platform that has become a force in politics.

Now that the majority of lawmakers, pundits, White House officials and think tanks are using Twitter with gusto in their daily messaging wars, it’s rare to find a political player who does not tweet.

But for a variety of reasons, 15 senators and 53 representatives are just saying no.

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Although a handful of congressional offices reported that they had not ruled out signing up for Twitter in the future, others deferred to a committee account rather than setting up a handle. Some said that they do not see the micro-blogging site as an effective tool to talk about policy.

And although the majority of the tweet-less lawmakers are over the age of 60, the holdouts aren’t all of the same generation. Reps. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), for example, are both in their 30s.

Boren, who said he prefers Facebook, acknowledged he is “in the minority” among both his age group and his colleagues, but said there’s good reason to be wary of Twitter.

“I’m not big on jumping on something that doesn’t allow you to have time to think it through,” he told The Hill. “Too many people I’ve seen have sent tweets out that get them into trouble.”

But Boren also said the popularity of Twitter in Congress would have eventually persuaded him to sign up, were he not retiring this year.

Many of the lawmakers who aren’t on Twitter said they can’t communicate their positions effectively in 140 characters or fewer. 

“We just don’t see a whole lot of value in Twitter overall compared to other methods of outreach,” said Hunter’s spokesman Joe Kasper. “It might be worthwhile for updating folks on what you just ordered at the drive-through, but not communicating positions on big issues. We might come around to using it, eventually. Though we are definitely not there yet.”

A spokesman for Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) said Twitter “places too many restrictions on the kind of effective and thorough communication that he thrives on.”

Rep. Wally Herger’s (R-Calif.) office said, “Twitter does not lend itself to” thorough explanations.

And the office of Rep. Tom PetriTom PetriDem bill would make student loan payments contingent on income Black box to combat medical malpractice Two lawmakers faulted, two cleared in House Ethics probes MORE (R-Wis.) said the lawmaker “prefers longer forms of communication.” 

“He has a website and a Facebook page, and he distributes information via email to subscribers. I can’t really imagine him tweeting, however,” said Petri’s spokesman.

Marcia Newbert, a digital strategist at the PR firm Edelman, said lawmakers are right to note Twitter’s limitations, and said the service is best used for “pulling back the curtain” on the legislative process.

“I think it probably is a unique situation for each office and they should figure out what works best for them in terms of staff resources to maintain comfort levels. … I don’t think there’s any real strategy in joining every social network just to check the box,” she said. 

“[But] people are communicating on Twitter, so if your office has the bandwidth and you’re interested in learning more or hearing more from your constituents, I think Twitter is a great way.”

The Hill looked at official congressional accounts to tally the number of lawmakers who aren't using Twitter. Had unofficial, personal accounts been included, the number of members who aren't using the service would have been lower.

Nearly a dozen of the lawmakers who shun Twitter are retiring at the end of this term. Nearly everyone in the Republican freshman class tweets, due in part to a nudge from House leaders who want the rank and file to stay connected with voters in their districts.

When the 112th Congress was sworn in last January, about 65 percent of the House and 60 percent of the Senate did not have a Twitter presence, according to Twitter’s politics team. Now that number is down to around 10 percent.

Almost all of the non-tweeting lawmakers use Facebook, and a large number who are running for reelection have a campaign presence on both networks.

“There’s so much more freedom on the campaign side,” said Vincent Harris, a GOP strategist who handled social media for the presidential campaigns of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

In part due to the complicated ethics restrictions on official communication, “official accounts are boring and bland and bureaucratic,” according to Harris. “I don’t see a need for every member of Congress to have an official account ... except for perception. I don’t know why any member of Congress in 2012 would want to look like a technophobe.”

In an e-mail, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said, “I communicate in person, through correspondence, with two Facebook pages (official and unofficial), email updates, a website, telephone town hall conferences and community one-on-one meetings, etc. I may use Twitter in the future.”

Newbert speculated that there may be an even higher rate of Twitter use by the next Congress, when freshman lawmakers who likely will have used Twitter extensively during their campaigns arrive on Capitol Hill. 

For now, the holdouts are divided almost equally between the two parties. Sen. Jim RischJim RischSen. Cory Gardner endorses Cruz GOP lawmakers vie for convention power GOP senator on endorsing Cruz: 'I guess it depends on your definition' MORE (R-Idaho) — part of the over-60 crowd — is among the few Senate Republicans still not using Twitter. Risch’s office said the senator has not ruled it out.

“He certainly sees the benefit of Twitter as a social medi[um], as demonstrated by the Usain Bolt tweets during the Olympics, but less useful as a policy discussion tool,” said spokesman Brad Hoaglun.

Twitter reported 80,000 tweets per minute sent when Bolt won gold in the 200-meter this summer, a social-media record for Olympic-related conversations. 

Political interest on Twitter has grown in the past few years, too. Twitter reported that tweets sent about the political conventions this year had sextupled the number sent about both 2008 conventions by the second evening of the Republican National Convention.

Overall, the number of adults who use Twitter on a daily basis has doubled since last May, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center released in June.

Lawmakers 
not on Twitter
 

Senate

Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteGOP women push Trump on VP pick John Bolton PAC pours more cash into GOP campaigns Dem campaign arm: Poll numbers slipping for vulnerable Republicans MORE (R-N.H.)
Max BaucusMax BaucusWyden unveils business tax proposal College endowments under scrutiny The chaotic fight for ObamaCare MORE (D-Mont.)
 
Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)

Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (R-Ga.) 
Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)
Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)
Al FrankenAl FrankenSenate passes resolution honoring Prince Senators aim to bolster active shooter training Minnesota senators praise Prince on Senate floor MORE (D-Minn.)
Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandCarter pledges probe of sex assault testimony This week: Congress on track to miss Puerto Rico deadline Maryland Senate primary intensifies MORE (D-N.Y.)

Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonSenate approves new Veterans Affairs watchdog Overnight Regulation: Republicans move to block financial adviser rule Senate Republicans move to block financial adviser rule MORE (R-Ga.)
Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate passes resolution honoring Prince CBS News lands Sanders as WHCA dinner guest Minnesota senators praise Prince on Senate floor MORE (D-Minn.) 
Herb Kohl (D-Wis.)

Jim Risch (R-Idaho)

Jon TesterJon TesterElizabeth Warren stumps, raises funds for Duckworth Senators subpoena EPA officials over mine waste spill The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mont.) 
Jim Webb (D-Va.)
David VitterDavid VitterSenators aim to bolster active shooter training 5 takeaways from Mike Lee’s leadership bid Republicans demand shift in Obama’s ISIS strategy MORE (R-La.)

House
 

Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.)
 
Rob BishopRob BishopBishop eyes new Puerto Rico bill after recess House defense panel votes to keep sage-grouse off endangered list Lew on Puerto Rico: 'The crisis is now' MORE (R-Utah)

Dan Boren (D-Okla.)

Bruce BraleyBruce Braley10 rising stars in the energy and environment world DC delegate plans to confront GOP lawmaker calling for Washington recession DC delegate slams GOP lawmaker calling for Washington recession MORE (D-Iowa) 
Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)

Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

Kathy Castor (D-Fla.)

Ben Chandler (D-Ky.)

David Cicilline (D-R.I.) 
Lacy Clay (D-Mo.)

Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)

Danny Davis (D-Ill.)

Susan Davis (D-Calif.)

David Dreier (R-Calif.)

John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.)

Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) 
Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney FrelinghuysenNavy chief: Iran's detention of US sailors went against international law Three House panels to investigate whether ISIS intelligence was cooked House passes 2016 defense spending bill MORE (R-N.J.)

Scott GarrettScott GarrettDivided GOP to powwow on budget Overnight Campaign: Paul mounts attempt to make main debate stage Republican: ObamaCare helped 'one or two people' nationally MORE (R-N.J.)

Sam GravesSam GravesHouse GOPer eyes McCaskill challenge 5B highway bill limits teen truckers House appoints negotiators for highway bill talks with Senate MORE (R-Mo.)

Ralph HallRalph HallGOP fights off primary challengers in deep-red Texas Most diverse Congress in history poised to take power Lawmakers pay tribute to Rep. Ralph Hall MORE (R-Texas)

Andy Harris (R-Md.)

Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.)

Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichCarter pledges probe of sex assault testimony Week ahead: Rival encryption efforts clash on Capitol Hill Encryption commission bill picks up more backers MORE (D-N.M.)

Wally Herger (R-Calif.)

Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.)

Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)

Dale Kildee (D-Mich.)

Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.)

David Loebsack (D-Iowa)

Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)

Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.)

John Mica (R-Fla.)

Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)

Ed PastorEd PastorWhich phone do lawmakers like the most? CAMPAIGN OVERNIGHT: Political tomfoolery Pastor endorses in race to replace him MORE (D-Ariz.) 
Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)

Tom Petri (R-Wis.)

Todd Platts (R-Pa.)

Nick RahallNick RahallSolution needed: Rail congestion is stifling economic growth Lobbying World Dem files Ethics complaint on Benghazi panel MORE (D-W.Va.)

Steven Rothman (D-N.J.)

Steve Scalise (R-La.)

Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio)

Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.)

James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.)

Heath Shuler (D-N.C.)

Chris Smith (R-N.J.)

Betty Sutton (D-Ohio)

Mike Thompson (D-Calif.)

Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio)

Tim Walz (D-Minn.)

Peter WelchPeter WelchGOP rep debates future of cybersecurity bill The recovery is underway Consumers have the right to know what is in their food MORE (D-Vt.)

Rob WoodallRob WoodallLawmakers backed embargo, but now want local flights to Cuba House appoints negotiators for highway bill talks with Senate House passes 5B highway bill MORE (R-Ga.)

Bill Young (R-Fla.)

Corrections: Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) office set up a Twitter account at the end of August. An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about Waxman's account and about the number of lawmakers not on Twitter.

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