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Reflecting on a career in public service: The House Was My Home

Headshot of Dan Freeman.

Dan Freeman considers himself a policy wonk, not a politician. 

“I know the complex rules and processes of legislating,” said Freeman, a fellow in residence at the AU Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, whose memoir, The House Was My Home: My Life on Capitol Hill and Other Tales, was released July 17.

Freeman spent 35 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as counsel and parliamentarian to the House Judiciary and International Relations Committees under both parties. A graduate of Washington University and Columbia Law School, he also worked in the Carter White House and in local government in the District of Columbia and Peoria, Illinois. During his career, Freeman worked on gun control, same-sex marriage, and term limits, among other issues. He contributed to legislation on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he considers the most important, with a dramatic nationwide effect. 

Freeman believes that building relationships and having a sense of humor helped him earn respect on both sides of the aisle. “One of the nicest things someone ever said to me was: ‘You take your job seriously, but you don’t take yourself seriously,’” said Freeman, who was known as the “javelin catcher” for remaining unflappable under pressure.

After leaving the Hill, Freeman decided to write about the “strange, weird, and extraordinary things” he witnessed during his time in Congress. The book relates multiple historical and humorous encounters, with figures such the Dalai Lama, Henry Kissinger, Lee Iacocca, and Richard Branson. As staff counsel on four impeachment processes (three judicial and one presidential), his expertise placed him in high media demand during the Trump impeachment. 

Freeman also observed tragic retellings of U.S. history. His most moving moment in Congress, he said, came while watching testimony of former internee Norm Mineta, during consideration of the bill apologizing to Japanese Americans confined to internment camps in 1942.

In 2007, Freeman brought his expertise in constitutional law to AU, joining the faculty of the Washington Semester Program as the academic director of the Public Law Seminar. He taught seminars to pre-law students and used his long list of contacts to bring in well-known guest speakers, including members of the House and Senate, current and former cabinet officers, and other experts in public policy. He also developed an honors colloquium on bioethics and the law. 

Before the beginning of each semester, Freeman asked for photos of each student, in order to recognize them by name on the first day. As a teacher, he used the Socratic method and preferred lively, interactive classes. He challenged students to argue different sides of issues––never revealing personal feelings. 

Freeman mentored students as well, and often told them that working in government can be a true calling. “I found it to be challenging, interesting. and very rewarding . . . You can be a significant actor in public policy making,” Freeman said. “I hope my students have careers that have been as satisfying as mine.”