WASHINGTON — On his weekly trips back home to Indiana, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly has been snapping photos of high school gyms to add to the Hoosier-themed artwork in his Washington, D.C., office, and collecting mugs for the Wednesday morning coffee hours he hosts for constituents visiting the nation’s capital.
Since taking office six months ago, the freshman senator has immersed himself in big national issues, from immigration reform to the Affordable Care Act. But he’s also been what he calls “laser focused” on staying connected to the people he represents.
For Donnelly, that means frequent travel around the state – where he’s routinely peppered with advice – and a mandate to his staff to respond as quickly as they can to the thousands of emails and phone calls they get each week, especially those that are requests for help navigating the federal bureaucracy.
“Our job is to make sure that if a veteran has a problem, we take care of it. If there’s a Social Security question, we get it answered,” Donnelly said, in a recent interview in his Washington office. “We’re the hired help. We’re here to serve the people of Indiana.”
It’s gotten a little easier to do. In late May, Donnelly and his staff moved out of their temporary Senate office in a cramped basement space with a single phone line and into permanent digs on the 7th floor of the Senate Hart Office Building.
“I think my office is bigger than my house back in South Bend,” said Donnelly, a three-term congressman who had a much smaller office when he was in the House. He works to keep some perspective on his power: On a recent day after filling in as the presiding officer in the Senate – as junior Senators are called to do – Donnelly had one of his standard evening meals: a microwaved frozen dinner.