In this edition of Wilson Center NOW, we speak with Congressional Fellow Donald Wolfensberger about his latest book, “Changing Cultures in Congress: From Fair Play to Power Plays.” He explains the institutional dynamics behind the House of Representative’s transformation from an institution primarily focused on legislation and governance to one plagued by a culture of perpetual campaigning. He also offers thoughts on how the culture can change again and offers thoughts on how the body can regain lost effectiveness and a sense of bipartisanship.

Book available here:



Donald R. Wolfensberger is a Congressional Fellow for the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He first came to the Wilson Center in February 1997 as a guest scholar where he wrote the book, Congress and the People: Deliberative Democracy on Trial (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). Prior to that he worked for 28 years as a staff member in the House of Representatives, beginning in 1969 as a legislative assistant to his own Congressman, Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.). He joined the House Rules Committee staff as Anderson's subcommittee counsel in 1979, and subsequently served on the committee as subcommittee counsel to Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) from 1981-88, and Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.), from 1989-90.  In 1991 he was named Republican Staff Director of the Rules Committee by Ranking Minority Member Gerald B. Solomon (R-N.Y.), and in 1995 Solomon named him chief-of-staff of the Committee in the 104th Congress.  He is an expert on parliamentary rules and procedures and played a key role in developing House reform proposals for the Republican leadership over the years, culminating in their adoption as House rules when the GOP won majority control in 1995. He earned a B.A. in English from North Central College (1964) and successfully completed course work towards an M.A. in political science at the University of Iowa (1966).  During his freshman year at North Central College he was sports editor of the college newspaper, The Chronicle, and yearbook, The Spectrum, and as a sophomore was named editor of the newspaper. While in graduate school he worked part-time as newscaster and reporter for KXIC radio in Iowa City. After graduate school he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, East Africa (1967-68), teaching English in a secondary school. He currently writes a twice-monthly column, “Procedural Politics,” for the popular Capitol Hill Newspaper, Roll Call.  He lectures frequently on Congress to student groups, foreign diplomats, and executive branch officials. 



John Milewski is the executive producer and managing editor of Wilson Center NOW and also serves as director of Wilson Center ON DEMAND digital programming.