Interning on Capitol Hill during the summer was one of the most eye-opening and exciting experiences for me. I worked in Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ (WA-05) Washington D.C. office, which is constantly busy as she serves as the chair of the House Republicans. Through guiding tours, sitting in on congressional briefings, assisting with exhibits, fielding constituent correspondence, attending conventions, and observing the daily happenings of Congress, I gained even more appreciation for our nation’s democratic system.
1) Hands on experiences push you to learn rapidly
My inernship allowed me to learn through hands-on experiences. I quickly studied up and memorized facts on the Capitol building to lead tours for visiting constituents. It was so fun to pass along knowledge to fellow Americans. In fact, I acquired tremendous understanding of our government and the history behind our founding.
As an intern, you are a part of unique events that many even in the media are just witnessing for the first time. For instance, I helped set up an informative art exhibition sponsored by House Republicans which brought to light the terrible reality Syrians live with. By seeing photos of torture victims up close and the horrifying conditions Syrians endure, it solidified my opinion of Syria’s government under the oppressive Assad regime. I often sat in with fellow interns on congressional briefings to take notes on a certain topic for the day. These meetings revolved around live discussions between congressional members and stakeholders as they worked to mitigate and strategize solutions. All of these sessions were fascinating. They provided me with in depth information I would not have gained elsewhere.
2) Untruths told by the media
If you base your opinions of elected officials off the mainstream media, then you may think that they are dishonest, ineffective, and egotistical people. I found that on the Hill, the media likes to play up the most extreme moments. When in reality, many members of Congress are fairly middle ground and reasonable. Often times, representatives come together to draft bipartisan legislation for the good of the people and to find a common solution for their state. Other times, compromises are made so that a bill will not be stalled and both sides can feel satisfied with the outcome. Yes, there is, at times, major gridlock and disagreement, but much of the divisiveness is overemphasized by the media. I observed moments of camaraderie and unity, such as the annual congressional baseball game in which a team of Republican lawmakers battles it out against a team of Democrats. This bipartisan charity event is a fun way for members to come together and raise money for worthy Washington D.C. area causes. The last two annual games hold special significance following the shooting that occurred at the Republican baseball practice in Virginia in 2017. Politicians from both sides of the aisle joined together to support Republican House Whip Steve Scalise after he was critically shot in his hip. Scalise was able to play (and make a great play) in the 2018 game. All in all, witnessing Congress at work showed me that not all lawmakers are as vicious and immoral as they are made out to be.
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3) You develop better socialization skills
Whether it is giving a building tour, hosting a meeting, or answering constituent phone calls, being a “Hill” intern can definitely push you past your social comfort zone. I consider myself to be a moderately outgoing person given the circumstances, but when you are at the front lines of a congressional office, you must be ready to assist, answer questions, and be extremely hospitable. I learned a lot about myself and how I handle pressure when under a time crunch. One of my favorite tasks was assisting at the “Coffee with Cathy” events. Constituents had the opportunity to meet the Congresswoman and potentially discuss landmark legislation or initiatives. Through these gatherings, I chatted with people from all over the state of Washington and the country to discover what issues meant the most to them. Their life stories were enlightening. In fact, it made me feel like I was serving a higher purpose. I truly think that I am better at generating conversations, handling correspondence, and working to serve others due to my time on the Hill.
4) Having thick skin is a must
In that same breath, working within the Capitol grounds is not for those who get hurt by brash comments easily. Washington D.C. is an extremely fast paced city with staffers, Congress members, lobbyists, and interns alike all working rapidly to form legislative change. Breaking news stories present urgency in passing along information and making sure politicians are accurately having their voices heard. There were many a phone calls that I handled from disgruntled constituents in which they called me names just out of anger. Interns and staffers are in the offices to answer questions and reassure constituents that they are heard, regardless of whether they agree with them or not. By constantly dealing with difficult callers, I eventually was able to let those comments roll off and not affect me.
5) Prepare for action-packed, hectic days
Lastly, you should prepare yourself for the hustle and bustle that will consume you on the Hill. Every day seems to be filled with some breaking news story, heated briefings, or intense floor voting. When I toured constituents around the Capitol, I walked up to eight miles a day some days. Running notices to other Republican members was also imperative if a large piece of legislation was heading to the floor. I was constantly counting down the clock to deliver everything on time. Members and staffers have filled schedules. Interns assist by covering phone calls and mail, handling errand runs and coordinating meetings. It was so thrilling to be in the thick of all of the action. I distinctly remember when the decision of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges was announced; staffers, interns and media folk alike rushed around to spread the news. Washington was aflutter and people were celebrating in the streets all day. News stories like this are a constant part of working life in Washington D.C. and keep everyone on their toes.