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Almost all in Congress use Twitter; if only bills could be as short as tweets

Four years ago, when President Barack Obama was first inaugurated, the savvy social media politician was among the first to use Twitter to his advantage to get his message out to voters. Republicans also used the short-messaging blog back then to heckle the new president as he delivered a speech to Congress. (Even the mom of Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill criticized her daughter for tweeting during the event, although her posts were about seeing Supreme Court  Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg there after her operation for cancer.)

Other politicians were still finding their way on Twitter, including former Michigan congressman Pete Hoekstra, who blared to the world he was on a secret mission to Iraq by tweeting about it in 2009, and in 2011, former New York congressman Anthony Weiner took to Twitter to share lewd photos of himself with a lady friend.

Times have changed with Internet speed. As President Obama heads into his second term, most politicians are up to snuff on social media, or have at least hired helpers who know how to make the most of 140 characters or less. Twitter gaffes are no longer the norm. These days, politicians use Twitter to connect with constituents, provide updates on legislation, comment on big news stories and even share photos of their daily goings-on. 

What's more, Twitter announced that all 100 members of the U.S. Senate now tweet, compared to 44 percent in 2011; and 90 percent of the members of the House of Representatives send out 140-word bits and bites (or at least their staffers do; it’s often hard to know who is really behind the tweeting). Still, with nearly all of Congress tweeting, why can't bill-writing be done with such brevity? (The Affordable Care Act would have looked a lot different if it had said: "Everybody. Gets. Covered. The End.")

NBC News asked Twitter to tell us who are the “most followed” senators and representatives. They don’t have numbers quite like the Bieb (33 million-plus followers) or even the president (26 million-plus).  But Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, leads this list, with an impressive nearly 1.8 million followers. Here are the top 5 from each branch of Congress:


Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona

Tweets: 4,469

Followers: 1,791,300

Joined Twitter: Feb. 22, 2010

He lost the presidential race in 2008, but still holds tremendous sway as one of the Republican Party’s senior senators.

Twitter tendencies: Because McCain, 76, does appeal to both sides of the aisle, his comments carry weight, although his tweets can be a bit dry (again, it’s not known how many of them he posts himself, or whether an overworked staffer is doing that). But they seem heartfelt and sincere. “Impressive briefing from Afghan Army Gen. Waziri in E. #Afghanistan- heroes who've fought for their country for 30 yrs” “Very positive meeting with President Karzai yesterday - US must maintain enduring partnership with #Afghanistan if we are to succeed here” and “Does Eric Schmidt really think that any ordinary North Koreans will hear his call for Internet freedom?”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida

Tweets: 1,215
Followers:  232,387

Joined Twitter: Aug. 6, 2008

The first-term senator is one of the Republican Party’s much-needed stars, and a Cuban-American who also has received props from the Tea Party.

Twitter tendencies: It could have been Rubio running as Mitt Romney’s veep candidate, although it was Rep. Paul Ryan who was chosen last summer. Many think Rubio’s year will be 2016, and commend his work on immigration, sure to be a big issue, as indicated by the president in his inauguration speech. Rubio’s tweets seem to be his own, including these: “#Esquire report on having less hair than I once did is sadly true. But good news is I am still in upper 2% in Senate.” And: “Man pleads guilty to smuggling birds into US from #Cuba, HIDDEN IN HIS PANTS!!!”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent, Vermont

Tweets:  5,543
Followers: 136,187

Joined Twitter: April 7, 2009

Sanders is the Senate’s only registered Independent, and was recently re-elected to a second term after previously serving several years in Congress.

Twitter tendencies: Sanders titled his 1997 autobiography, “Outsider in the House,” and enjoys his role as an independent, with a focus on the financial problems of the nation, as well as on global warming. “In our closed-door (Democratic) caucuses, he's not one of the senators who wants to speak on everything," Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told the Burlington Free-Press in 2008. "He picks his issues, and when he does speak, he has something valuable to say, and people listen." That includes on Twitter, where Sanders often strikes out at large corporations and Wall Street. “Allowing Wall St CEOs to serve as @FederalReserve directors and hand-pick its members is a clear example of the fox guarding the henhouse,” he tweeted earlier this month.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota

Tweets:  1,177
Followers: 113,763

Joined Twitter: July 8, 2007

The former “Saturday Night Live” comedian tackles serious issues, including advocating for better mental health care in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, while also sponsoring lighter events like the recent Secret Santa gift exchange to break tensions among his colleagues.

Twitter tendencies: Franken isn’t a laugh-a-minute; he’s quite Minnesotan: Down-to-business and purposeful. Some of that may be his honesty-in-labeling: “Official TeamFranken Twitter feed” is what his Twitter page says, indicating the tweets may not be all his. But he is focused on big issues, including Internet freedom and privacy. “One hurdle cleared! #Senate Judiciary Cmte passes Al's #privacy bill to stop Smartphone Stalking,” he tweeted last month, as well as last June, a what-should-be-common sense approach to electronic records and health care: “All laptops containing private medical information should be encrypted to protect privacy.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri

Tweets: 2,454
Followers:  86,703

Joined Twitter: Sept. 6, 2008

McCaskill won re-election in November after defeating U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, whose comments about “legitimate rape” sent voters – and his proposed Senate election – over the edge.

Twitter tendencies: She is one of the few politicians who is personable and personal when she tweets, painting a picture for followers of real life in Washington, D.C.  Among her tweets from the inauguration Monday: “Four years ago today I began tweeting. One of my first tweets was a comment on (Supreme Court Justice Antonin) Scalia's weird hat. Will he wear it again? Stay tuned.” That was followed up by a tweet — “Yup. There it is” — and sharing a photo she took.


Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio

Tweets: 9,854
Followers:  434,913

Joined Twitter: July 25, 2007

The Speaker of the House is the BMOCH (Big Man on Capitol Hill), as the voice of the Republican Party.

Twitter tendencies: He’s a little drier than a roll of paper towels wrapped in plastic, but that’s probably what Americans expect of him. Tweets like “House bills are now available for bulk download in XML via @USGPO,” and “This @aei chart shows ‘above normal’ government spending is driving force behind our debt” don’t win tweeting prizes. It’s also a big clue that the down-to-earth congressman probably doesn’t do his own tweets as a rule.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin

Tweets:  1,188
Followers:   327,076

Joined Twitter: Jan. 12, 2009

Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was Romney’s vice-presidential candidate, and impressed conservative voters with his approach to handling the deficit.

Twitter tendencies: His post-election tweets have been few and far between; he likely had his biggest gains in followers during the campaign, taking the president to task for his fiscal policies. But some signs of Twitter life have been showing in recent days, including these tweets: "We must pay bills today & ensure we can pay bills tomorrow. To do that, we must cut spending & budget responsibly” and “Senate Democrats have refused to pass a budget. Time to hold them accountable for this legal and moral failure.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California

Tweets:  1,174
Followers:   293,092

Joined Twitter: Aug. 7, 2008

The minority House leader was the first woman to be speaker of the House, from 2007-2011, and during that time oversaw the House passage of the president’s landmark health reform law.

Twitter tendencies:  The intense, all-business, to-the-point Pelosi uses Twitter to promote the president’s agenda, as well as hers: “The President has taken action to help protect families and children. Congress must now do its part to prevent gun violence,” she tweeted in recent days.  But she is also personal when appropriate: “Saddened to hear of the passing of @PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford, who proved the power of a mother’s love can drive out hate,” Pelosi posted Jan. 10.


Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida

Tweets:  2,984
Followers:  173,794

Joined Twitter:  Feb. 20, 2010

Wasserman Schultz is the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and party officials credit her for her role in helping the president carry her home state in the November election, and gaining more seats in the Senate and House.

Twitter tendencies: Very politically correct, as one might expect a DNC chairwoman to be, but also very Florida in defending “my Gators” (we’re talking college football, not the critters). She's also a fan of the movie, “Lincoln”: “Just saw Lincoln, which was absolutely incredible. Raging debate over the 13th Amendment in 1865 makes fiscal cliff chasm seem so minute,” she tweeted Nov. 17.


Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota

Tweets:  1,821
Followers:  168,738

Joined Twitter: Dec. 18, 2008

The champion of the Tea Party unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination last year. She was re-elected to Congress in November.


Twitter tendencies:  Tiger when it comes to tearing down the president’s policies: “At noon today, I introduced the first bill of the 113th Congress to repeal Obamacare in its entirety,” she tweeted Jan. 3. But she can also be a little homespun: “This morning I spoke to a great group of college students about my journey from student, wife and mother to politics,” she posted Jan. 15. And on Christmas Eve, she shared a link to a YouTube video with this Christmas Eve tweet: “One of my favorite scenes from Charlie Brown Christmas. Merry Christmas.”

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