Phone Calls

Who Can Do This

  • Any staff member
  • Any member of the House or Senate

Difficulty: Easy


Picking up the phone to call someone directly signals a member’s high level of interest, since letters and statements are often written without a member’s knowledge. Phone calls are especially important during fast-moving or emergency situations, such as when physical safety is being threatened, and may result in immediate action being taken. In certain cases, they can be a way of getting answers quickly and directly, and avoiding layers of clearance and review. Many view phone calls as one of the most meaningful and effective actions a member can take.


Calls can be made to specific U.S. or foreign government officials, representatives of international agencies such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or the International Committee of the Red Cross, or to individual human rights defenders and family members. They can be made in response to crises or as part of regular relationship building.

Good Practices

  • In the age of emails, texts and tweets, many people are reluctant to make an old-fashioned phone call. Yet, it is often the most efficient and effective way to get answers and resolve problems.
  • Phone calls should not be the first indication of a member’s interest in an issue. Phone calls from members are taken quite seriously (unless they become overbearing and habitual) and should be used to follow up on concerns that have been previously expressed through letters, meetings, briefings, and hearings.
  • Phone calls generally have no written record, so your boss may be able to raise sensitive topics they would not want in writing.
  • Staff should develop relationships with officials who handle issues of key interest to their boss at the State Department, the National Security Council, and other agencies. Doing so will help ensure that phone calls are answered in emergency situations.
  • Phone calls are most effective when they come at a key moment on an urgent issue.
  • Emergencies happen late at night, on weekends and during holidays, so keep your list of phone contacts handy at all times. Call the State Department’s Operations Center, which is open 24 hours a day, to resolve emergency situations for U.S. citizens and respond to budding crises.

Instructive Examples

  1. Call to Rwandan Ambassador Protects Human Rights Activist. In April 1994, Rwandan human rights activist Monique Mujawamariya narrowly survived the genocide by hiding inside a ceiling and paying a $700 bribe. When she came to Washington to tell her story, she was accosted by Rwandan agents who threatened the life of her children, from whom she had become separated. During a meeting with Mujawamariya, Sen. Edward Kennedy picked up the phone and demanded to speak to the Rwandan Ambassador, whom Kennedy told in no uncertain terms he would hold personally responsible if harm ever came to Mujawarmariya’s children. The children were left unharmed.
  2. Strategic Phone Call Ends Deadlock. Congressional negotiations over a major piece of international human rights legislation were deadlocked. The committee chairman, a Democrat, made a swift call to the White House chief of staff, a Republican, who prevailed upon the ranking member to compromise. The deal was finalized and the legislation was enacted.