Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of
Veterans Affairs withdrew his name from consideration this
week after a number of serious allegations were raised about
his stewardship as White House physician, including that he
drank on the job.
allegations against Ronny Jackson of excessive drinking
shine a light on a problem that, while not unique to
Washington, is particularly acute in the nation’s capital.
D.C., has the highest rates of binge and problem drinking in
a booze problem fueled by a uniquely stressful environment
where many of the corporate structures of accountability and
oversight don’t exist.
the executive branch to Capitol Hill, K Street lobbying
firms to high-pressure newsrooms, free alcohol is easily
days of the three-martini lunch may be gone, but they have
been replaced by hard-partying nights filled with
fundraisers, receptions or long bar tabs.
is just a strong push and culture of intoxication in D.C.
It’s been like that for a long time,” said Kevin Sabet, who
served in the White House’s Office of National Drug Control
Policy in three different administrations. “It’s not a
Republican or Democrat issue. It really cuts across all
weekend, Washington’s political class will hobnob during at
least 10 events surrounding the White House
correspondents' dinner, where the drinks flow freely. The
most common complaint at the dinner itself is that empty
wine bottles are not replaced with sufficient speed.
the holiday season, it is possible to spend weeks in a row
drinking free while hopping from reception to reception
sponsored by all manner of corporations and interest groups.
a dozen current and former aides and members of Congress,
all of whom asked for anonymity to shed light on an unsavory
side of the culture within government, said a combination of
factors contribute to a heavy-drinking environment: Members
are away from their families for long stretches of time.
Lobbyists and supplicants are eager to please, whether via
campaign contributions or a cocktail. And few formal rules
governing workplace environments exist in the halls of
Congress, or in the White House.
everyone who works in or around government has a story.
do as I say, not as I do,” said one Republican former member
senior Senate aide recalled his early days on Capitol Hill,
when the member of Congress for whom he was interning found
a door off its hinges in the Longworth House Office
Building. The door became a table on which the member and
his staff would play beer pong, positioned over a conference
room table so as not to leave stains on the more permanent
furniture. The tournaments began before noon on
Fridays, and often lasted until midnight.
drinking among America’s political leaders is as old as the
learnedof Franklin Roosevelt’s
death just as he arrived to have an afternoon bourbon with
House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas). Sen. Joseph McCarthy
one point drankmore than a quart of
liquor a day. President Lyndon Johnsonspent
eveningsin Sen. Everett Dirksen’s
(R-Ill.) office on Capitol Hill over whiskey.
are even tales that, during Prohibition, members of Congress
used the storiedOhio
clockoutside the Senate chamber to
hide their illegal liquor. The Senate Historical Office
says there is no truth to the rumor, though Congress had its
bootleggerfor much of the
more recent years, ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.),admitted
to being drunk when he sent inappropriate text
messages to underage pages.
Washingtonians purchase more alcohol on a per capita basis
than any state except New Hampshire, according to statistics
from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
a quarter of District residents are binge drinkers, defined
as consuming more than five drinks in an evening; that
is the second-highest rate in the nation, behind North
Dakota. And Washington bears higher economic costs of
problem drinking than any other state, according to the CDC
part of the higher rates comes from the high-stakes nature
of government jobs, and from professions with a large
presence in Washington, said Aaron White, the senior
scientific adviser to the director of the National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Lawyers, plentiful in
Washington, tend to drink more than those in other
know that high-powered jobs, high income, that is a risk
factor for excessive drinking,” White said. “You have a lot
of people in powerful, high-paying jobs downtown. People
with money and stressful jobs tend to drink more.”