Some thoughts on what’s gained from summers spent on the Hill.
Each summer, the number of sharply dressed twenty-somethings increases exponentially on Capitol Hill. A fresh new crop of politically-minded college students invade, seeking employment with many of the 535 Members of Congress, any one of numerous federal departments, lobbying firms, research groups, or even the White House. The intern invasion happens every year and grants these students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the inner workings of the federal government firsthand. I fully understand that some of our readers may not wish to enter the field of government, but for those may be wavering about their career choice, allow this article to serve as a reasoned suggestion to take the plunge into the complex world of Hill politics.
I have been blessed to work in the United States Congress for the past two summers, spending time in both the Senate and the House. I had the chance to work for Georgia’s own Senator David Perdue (R-GA), and the incredible opportunity to work for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23) this past summer. Both these experiences have shaped my political worldview and allowed me to see the inside of the “swamp” that is the Congress. I will grant our readers the unavoidable truth that Congress is not popular, in fact, Gallup polls have congressional approval rating hovering at around twenty percent, a rather harsh drop when one compares them to statistics over the past century or so. The average American has the idea that Congress is a bunch of angry old men and women bickering endlessly. While this is indeed true to a frustrating extent, it is untrue to state that this is our Congress’s only function. Interning shows an appropriately interested party just how hard Congress really works, all while enduring a constant stream of vitriolic and often unwarranted sentiment from the public.
On a side note, it is recommended to apply into the House first if this is one’s first time making a Hill push; personal experience found the House slightly more engaging and personable than the Senate, though this is no knock on the Senate, both are equally entertaining.
Interning isn’t easy: it’s quite the financial investment with regard to housing and other assorted living costs; it is a time commitment that sometimes requires you to be there early and stay late; and it may not even pay (though some offices do pay their interns, I have yet to find these promised lands). Beyond these negatives, however, there is an incredible experience awaiting any prospective intern.
First and foremost, you will meet some incredible people, interns and Hill staffers alike. My fellow interns this summer came from all walks of life, from across the country, and held differing political beliefs that challenged mine and encouraged lively debate. You learn from their experiences, hear their stories, but most importantly, you build connections and make friendships for the future. The staffers are also incredible, more helpful than most, because some of them once sat in the same lowly spot of the intern, forging connections and making a name for themselves on the Hill. They too will share their experiences with you and help you find your place in an oft-hectic office setting. There’s a place for everyone in an office on the Hill, and most staffers are glad to have an intern they can count on to help them with research and writing on legislation and issues that interest both them and the intern.
In addition to the people one will meet and interact with, interning on the Hill offers an incredible opportunity to do many things that allows an interested party to become a part of the legislative process. I, for one, had the opportunity to conduct research into various areas of interest to the staff and the Leader, drafting up background memos before meetings, memorandums on the support (or opposition) to a piece of legislation, or even sitting in on meetings between senior staff and outside groups. I also had the chance to follow a piece of legislation from cradle to committee, sitting in on the meetings that hammered out the small technical details of a 51-page draft.
Furthermore, these offices will (most likely) have interns handle the telephone calls from constituents or other offices, quite a large responsibility in itself. It will be one of the intern’s general jobs to take these calls as professionally as possible, a task that is admittedly arduous when an angry constituent is berating an intern for something out of their control. However, there is a chance to make a real difference, to defuse the tension between the constituent and the boss (the member of Congress). A well-spoken person can be the voice of reassurance for the citizen who feels ignored by their representative, and perhaps even change their opinion of Congress. Some people feel that their members do not care about their home districts and have developed the “Beltway Mentality,” but the reality is that the members must pay attention to their districts, lest they be voted out of office on the next cycle. Thus, the interns must accurately relay the concerns of the citizens to the boss. In the Majority Leader’s personal office (handling the district concerns), we were responsible for tallying the most important topics during calls and relaying it to the chiefs.
Besides the more menial and tedious aspects of the job, interns are (usually) offered the opportunity to become tour guides for the various constituent families that book their tours of the Capitol through the office. Being a tour guide is incredibly entertaining, you get to interact with constituents and provide a reflection of the office (and the Congressperson) while you show them the exquisite features and rich history of our nation’s capital.
Of course, if one is a social butterfly, then this article is thereby obligated to point out that DC has an excellent food and music scene, nightlife (if you are of the legal age), easy access to many historical sites and monuments, not to mention the National Mall and the Smithsonian Institution, all connected by a well-run transit system. All in all, Washington, D.C is a fabulous place to get involved in the complex world of national politics, all while enjoying all the amenities and quirks that our nation’s capital offers. In conclusion, let the article leave the readers with this recommendation: Take the chance, apply to intern on Capitol Hill, it is better to say that one tried than not apply at all.
— Boris A. Abreu is Publishing Editor at The Arch Conservative.