High energy, a charismatic or approachable personality and the ability to navigate bureaucratic channels are traits that help United States senators succeed. Senators represent the interests of their states’ citizens, write and support legislation and vote on bills. They divide their time between their home states and Washington, D.C., and spend considerable time meeting with constituents and fellow lawmakers and attending Senate sessions.
Just the Facts
U.S. senators must be at least 30 years old and citizens of the U.S. Membership is open to both natural-born and naturalized citizens, providing that naturalized citizens have been citizens for at least nine years. Naturalized citizens are people born in other countries who become citizens of the U.S. Senators must be inhabitants of the state they represent. Each senator serves a six-year term and is paid $174,000 per year, as of 2014. Senate majority and minority leaders receive $193,400 annually, and the president pro tempore receives $223,500. A background in business, communications or law can be helpful, particularly when writing or evaluating legislation.
Meeting, Meetings and More Meetings
Meetings occupy a significant portion of a senator’s day. Senators meet with their staffers to review and plan daily activities, and discuss legislation and constituent issues. Attending committee meetings is a time-consuming, but very important, part of a senator’s day. Each senator is assigned to serve on one or more of the Senate’s 20 committees and 68 subcommittees. Committees and subcommittees review bills and resolutions, gather more information, hold hearings, and change and refine wording before sending bills to the Senate floor for a vote. Senators also meet with lobbyists, concerned citizens, and fellow lawmakers to discuss concerns and legislation. The Center on Congress at Indiana University notes that high energy levels and the ability to focus intently on tasks are helpful.
Keeping in Touch
Keeping up with the concerns of the residents of your state when you’re far away in Washington, D.C., can be difficult. Although staffers in a senator’s staff offices brief him on issues and concerns, there’s no substitute for speaking to citizens, local politicians and business leaders in person. When the Senate isn’t in session, senators head for home and travel their states to ensure they’re in touch with the needs of their citizens. An effective senator has excellent interpersonal skills and can establish a rapport with people of all ages and backgrounds.
Voting bills into law is one of the most important jobs of a senator. Senators can be called to the Senate floor without much notice once a bill is ready for a vote. Although the voting process only takes a few minutes, the debate and discussion leading up to the vote can be lengthy. When the official business of the Senate ends for the day, a senator’s day is far from over. Attendance at social functions and fundraising for the next senate campaign can keep him busy until late at night. Public speaking ability is a must, as senators make many speeches at events, receptions and fundraisers.