CAROLINE LANFORD | Washington, DC
My second day on the job at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security (CHS*), I was trying to find the Senate Judiciary hearing on constitutional amendment SJR 19, when I ran into former Republican presidential nominee and U.S. Senator from Arizona John McCain and the U.S. Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders. (In my starstruck hurry to document as unobtrusively as possible my first brush with power, I sort of disregarded any attempt to focus the camera… sorry!)
Afterwards, a fellow intern leaned in to tell me that I had done a great job being low-key in my paparazzi stunt, because he had just whipped his phone out and started snapping away, which unfortunately did far more to reconfirm my self-consciousness than validate my yuppiness.
I spent a lot of time this first week attending training/orientations/lectures since the House was out of session all this week– it gets pretty slow when the Members aren’t actually here. So far, I’ve had security and ethics training (mandatory for all congressional staff), staff-led tour training (I can now give tours of the Capitol!), and have gotten my official staff badge! So far at the office, the other four interns and I have been drafting briefs of reports, attending lectures, and running errands around the Hill to the Members’ offices, the hearing room, and the Capitol. My favorite activities so far are:
- Learning about the recent presidential elections from the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
- Finding out all the secret tricks and facts about the Capitol for tour training
- Learning about all the bills ready for markup (this Wednesday) from the directors of each of the Homeland Security Subcommittees at our weekly staff meetings
- Watching the House vote on a bill that originated in our committee
- Seeing this everyday:
Some of the most interesting/surprising things I’ve found out so far are:
- Congress really is hyper-polarized. Everything (e.g. seating, break rooms, committee staff, even pages) is divided so that Republicans have their own and Democrats have their own. The two do not mix.
- If you look like you know where you’re going, people will assume that you know where you’re going. Even though you really have no clue.
- “Networking” is a skeezy-sounding term for the very ordinary task of making friends with people, genuinely taking an interest in others, and helping them out when you can. For example, last summer, I was working at the Department of Commerce (DOC) in the International Trade Administration (ITA) when one of my friends asked me more about my internship because she thought it sounded really interesting. Last semester, I forwarded her contact info to my boss when another internship position became available, and now my friend has the job I had last summer. I learned about my current internship in a similar manner.
- Capitol Police are some of the nicest and most helpful people you will ever meet.
- *In Washington, something isn’t important until it has an acronym. Perhaps I’ll start signing my emails CVL?
That’s about all from the Hill for now! This week I’m hoping to continue learning about cybersecurity programs and chemical/biological weapons detection technologies in the subcommittee hearing tomorrow and the full committee markup on Wednesday. There’s also a Senate Judiciary hearing on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Wednesday that should also prove to be pretty interesting. Until then, just keep power walking!