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Tweeting Scared: Congressional Crisis Communication and Constrained Capacity

Congress isn’t a stranger to crises, political or otherwise. Lawmakers have overseen wars, managed recessions, responded to a global pandemic, and experienced the horrors of an insurrection. But as The New Yorker described it recently, many of the crises Congress faces today are self-imposed and a function of how the institution operates. This book considers how the staff and professionals that drive the daily operations of Congress have adapted to meet the rapid pace of news and information. The logistics of daily engagement in Congress mirror that of a disaster response. I explain how Congress has developed into a crisis communication operation, pairing interviews of current and former congressional communication professionals with congressional Twitter data to illustrate how Twitter and digital media have fueled the very same power asymmetries we expected new media to disrupt. The power of reputation-building online and rapid response has elevated Twitter in a way that ultimately constrains what little capacity lawmakers already had and makes the average member of Congress resource-dependent in terms of both policy and communication.