Franklin D. Roosevelt was famous for his "fireside chats" during the Great Depression. Now Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is launching "cot-side chats" on his Web site, shot from the now-famous cot where he sleeps in his House office to save money.
"People seem to relate to it (the cot). It's become the No. 1 tourist attraction in my office. I'm amazed how many people come in and want to have their picture taken with me, but with the cot, too," he said. And he chose to talk from there because "I want people to be able to hear from me firsthand what's going on and what the issues of the day are."
It is just one of many ways he is using new technology to reach out to voters.
"While some people are still trying to send out a telegram, I use Twitter (sending short text messages by cell phone or computer), Facebook, YouTube and the Internet. Those are my tools of choice. The toolbox has changed," he said.
In the new cot-side chats, Chaffetz walks up to the cot, sits down and discusses bills pending in the House. In one recent chat, he complained about line items in an omnibus spending bill for the current fiscal year.
"International family planning provides $545 million for the State Department," he says from the cot. "In other words, your tax dollars can be used for abortions in other countries." He complains in another shot about big spending saying, "This is a town where $1 billion seems to be a rounding error."
The cot became especially famous nationally when CNN did a feature about how he is sleeping in his office, which saves about $1,500 a month for his family by not renting an apartment.
CNN.com then started an online reality show called "The Freshman Year" that follows him and fellow freshman Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. One of the first episodes looked again at Chaffetz's cot, and how he survives on breakfasts of granola bars and Pop Tarts and how he showers in the House gym,
Polis, an openly gay member of Congress, expresses surprise in one episode that Chaffetz once worked for NuSkin. "I'm surprised that Jason was into skin care. That sounds more gay than anything I've done in my career," Polis said teasing Chaffetz.
Chaffetz said Web hits to watch "The Freshman Year" have "been unbelievable — off the charts. CNN initially said they wanted us to do it once. Now they want us essentially to do it for the year."
Other episodes on CNN.com show him riding the old subway trains in the House, and then riding a more modern one on the Senate side of the Capitol and saying, "They are pretty snooty over here." He is shown in meetings, eating in the House cafeteria, looking at the view from his office window and doing his everyday chores.
He said that CNN.com show, and his cot-side chats, "give people more of a raw look at what's really happening. It's not scripted. It's happening real time."
Some of his Twitter posts also give a raw view of his life in Congress.
"Ordered a pizza more than an hour ago … starving," one says. Another commenting about a 2009 spending bill says, "Still amazed … 9,000 earmarks and the president asked for zero."
Chaffetz has a YouTube channel that offers video of seemingly anytime he has spoken in Congress, and highlights from cot-side chats and the CNN.com show.
Chaffetz says the more popular posts are those that are entertaining. "The whole idea is that you can laugh and smile with somebody. It opens the door to have a discussion about serious issues. So while there are entertaining pieces, it's also insightful about the process and provides a forum to discuss issues."
With all that face time online, one thing that may not be surprising to others is what Chaffetz told CNN.com about what he found to be his biggest surprise in Congress. He said it is "that pretty much every thing you do and say ends up somewhere on the Internet and television."
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