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Congress members turn to social media to put their spin on shutdown

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WASHINGTON -- In the wee hours of the morning, as the first federal government shutdown in 17 years was about to begin, Rep. Scott DesJarlais unleashed his frustrations in a posting on his Facebook page.

"Looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to shut down the government over a law that 60% of Americans oppose," the Tennessee Republican proclaimed.

Later Tuesday, with the shutdown already several hours old, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., could barely contain his disdain for the tea party Republicans whose quest to dismantle President Barack Obama's signature health-reforms triggered the latest crisis in Washington.

"This shutdown was brought about by fools," Dingell wrote on Twitter. "Folks acting like experts on this place before they even knew where restrooms were."

With most federal agencies forced to go dark because of a budget fight between Democrats and Republicans, members of Congress took to social media to get out their message and put their own spin on the government shutdown, which forced some 800,000 federal employees out of work.

"The shutdown does not have to happen and is only occurring because the Tea Party Republicans are holding the country hostage over their desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that is already improving health care for millions of Californians," Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., wrote on Facebook on Monday.

"U.S. economy has been on a slowdown the last 5 years under Pres. Obama. And Obamacare is only making things worse," countered Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., on Twitter.

For many lawmakers, social media has become an important communications tool because it affords them a quick, cheap and unfiltered means of reaching constituents during high-stakes battles over matters like the government shutdown - using their own words and, in some cases, their actual voices.

"Social media is probably one of our biggest assets," said DesJarlais' spokesman, Robert Jameson. "It allows us to really directly communicate with the people we represent and poll (them) and ask questions. It's really more of a two-way dialogue with folks, and the congressman can take the pulse of people he represents, what they feel about an issue."

Sometimes, DesJarlais will write his Facebook posts or tweets himself. Other times, his staff will write them, but not before consulting with the congressman about what he wants to say, Jameson said.

"He monitors everything that goes on Facebook and Twitter," Jameson said. "And he certainly reads it throughout the day."

Capps is involved in all of the social media that goes out under her name and writes some of the posts herself, said her spokesman, Chris Meagher.

"She was just looking at her posts today and reading through the comments that people have left," Meagher said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, took to Twitter to pin the shutdown on Democrats and deflect criticism from Republicans, who early polls show are bearing the brunt of the blame.

"Democrats should come to the table and talk. It's that asking to much?" he tweeted, grammatical errors on full display.

Even the White House used social media to make political points.

Around noon Tuesday, several hours after the shutdown had begun, the White House Facebook page carried a photo of the presidential mansion in barely visible silhouette and the following message in big, white letters:

"Due to Congress's failure to pass legislation to fund the government, updates to this account will be limited."

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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