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What are some various types of representation that a congressman/woman may exhibit? Do members of Congress always act as the same type of representative, or do they change?

Quick answer:

One type of representation that a congressman/woman may exhibit is to "represent the people," but reality dictates that a member must make tough choices when determining how best to do that. Representation is a more complex construct than most realize and involves ever-shifting conflicts that require thoughtful measuring of problems and wise decision-making.

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Members of the House and Senate in the United States Congress have different levels of representation to consider when making important decisions.

Both the law and the structure in place ensure that a Member of Congress first represents those who voted him or her directly into office. Senators represent their entire state. Outside of a handful of states that have only one representative, House members must prioritize their individual districts before the interests of the state at large.

Many feel that each member should strive to represent the country as a whole, but this is impractical. James Madison explained that large republics have a huge diversity of interests and issues and that no single authority could address them all fairly. Also, the interests and issues of individual congressional districts, much less entire states, are difficult to learn, master, and address comprehensively. Many of those interests and issues find themselves in conflict with those from other areas, requiring thought and compromise from all representatives/senators involved.

The idea of representation does not end with the official task of the official in office. He or she must also represent other interests as well. The leadership structure of each chamber is set to majority and minority party representation. Republican and Democratic chamber leadership expect that their members will support the initiatives and ideals of their party with cheerful discipline.

Within the idea of party representation also comes the notion of an elected official's base voters and their desires. Officials all have a base of some kind of motivated voters whose ideals usually align together for the most part. Sometimes the voter base and chamber leadership from the same party see conflict against each other, especially when national policy or political considerations seem to override local concerns.

When this happens, members must figure out how to best represent their constituents while also remaining in the good graces with party leadership. Leadership can either help a member get what they need done for their district or create obstacles against that.

Finally, senators and representatives represent their own conscience. In representative democracy, the people place a trust in the hands of the official to act on their own conscience when principle, experience, or knowledge dictates it.

Pulls toward the partisan line are often countered by other interests. Elected officials in “safe seats” with overwhelming and consistent support have political independence that correlates to their level of support. Now retired Representative Ron Paul from Texas, for example, had a reputation for voting against every single bill that came before him out of principle, and his voters always returned him to office.

Others have to compromise when the voter interests are at stake. During the last major highway funding bill debate in 2015, GOP leadership included language that kept the Export-Import Bank in operation. For various reasons, many conservatives see the Export-Import Bank as corporate favoritism that has no place in a free market economy. One congressman who passionately railed against the Export-Import Bank voted for the highway bill because it would fund a highway vital to his constituents. He made the choice to represent the district and its needs above that of personal principle and idealism, which some found laudable and others saw as betrayal.

Nevertheless, he won re-election handily, and the highway has helped lead to job growth in that part of his district.

Representation may be much more complex than most understand and involves many potential conflicts. These, however, aid the deliberation process to ensure that the country gets the best results possible from Congress.

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