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NPR's Seabrook Reflects On A 'Broken Washington'

Andrea Seabrook joined NPR in 1998 as an editorial assistant for the music program <em>Anthem. </em>From 2006-2007, she hosted the weekend edition of <em>All Things Considered.</em>
Andrea Seabrook joined NPR in 1998 as an editorial assistant for the music program Anthem. From 2006-2007, she hosted the weekend edition of All Things Considered.

After 14 years with NPR and nearly a decade covering Congress, Andrea Seabrook is striking out on her own. She began her career in the marbled halls of Capitol Hill before Twitter, before the Tea Party, before the first female House speaker and before that institution's approval ratings sank to near single digits.

Seabrook is launching a blog and podcast called DecodeDC.

"One of the reasons that I am leaving to start a new project," she tell NPR's Jennifer Ludden, "is because of how broken Washington really is and how difficult it is to try to ... tell our listeners what is going on with their government day to day."

"We're in position, as journalists, where ... what the speaker and the majority leader and the minority — what they say is news, right?" she says. "But most of what they say these days — all day, every day — is spin. So it's very difficult."

Seabrook began covering Congress in January 2003. "It was a time when you could still smoke all over the Capitol. You could still smoke in the speaker's lobby, and really, it sounds like ancient history."

Dennis Hastert of Illinois was speaker of the House, and Tom DeLay of Texas was the House majority leader. She says that the culture of spin she observes now wasn't a major issue then. "In covering Tom DeLay, I never had to question if what he was saying was spin. He said what he meant."

"You asked him if he was going to continue the assault rifle ban, and he said, 'Nope.' And you said, 'Well, why? Most Americans support a ban on people owning assault rifles.' And he says, 'Because I don't.' "

Seabrook covered Democratic California Rep. Nancy Pelosi's rise to become the first female speaker of the House in 2007. "One story that [Pelosi] told me is when she was a teenager in high school, she was in a debate class and picked a debate topic out of a fishbowl — or her debate partner did. And the debate topic was: Do women think? So she went in her career from do women think, to the first speaker of the House. I find that extraordinary."

Seabrook's new blog will center on her view of the dysfunctional nature of Washington. She believes that the American people bear some of the blame.

"Americans, real people, you have bought this line that we are on two teams in this country. There is a red team, and there is a blue team. When we've gotten to the point where your partisan stripe comes before your American citizenship, our shared culture, our shared values in this country, then we have a real problem at the nation — national, federal level. We vote for people who are going in there to fight red or blue instead of put that stuff down at the end of the election cycle and work on real problems that need to be solved."

In reflecting on her years, she's learned to value the importance of the individual vote. "As a citizen of any political stripe, you should be very careful to research who you vote for and spend your vote very wisely."

"If you want someone who's rational and reasonable, then you have to go look for that person and take your vote out of the emotional realm of your brain and into the rational realm of your brain."

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