By Redi T. Degefa
Editor’s note: Redi Degefa is a sophomore and political science major at PUC. Her goal is to attend law school and later work in Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, among lawyers and politicians, Redi developed her passion for legislation and public service at an early age.
For undergraduates like myself, inclined toward a career in politics and public service, an internship on Capitol Hill is the ultimate opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the world of government and politics. This summer I interned in Washington, D.C., for Congressman Mike Thompson. He is the representative in Congress for California’s 5th district, which includes Napa Valley.
As an aspiring politician and congressional staffer, it was important for me to experience my future career climate and gain a better understanding of what it means to work on Capitol Hill. I started pursuing this internship in December 2017 and was accepted in March. I interned for almost three months, starting on June 26 and ending on Sept. 14.
This internship opportunity was both exhilarating and challenging. Not only was I constantly learning something new, but I was also seeing our politicians are not the self-seeking, money-grubbing verbal jousters we see portrayed in the media. In reality, they are genuine and passionate individuals who care about the people and the country they serve. This internship restored my faith in our government and our politicians.
When Congress is in session—meaning when representatives are scheduled to vote or debate on the floor of the House—both interns and staffers have their busiest days. Below is my typical daily timeline from one of those in-session days.
5:45 a.m. – 7 a.m.
Wake up. Stare at my closet for approximately six minutes as if my clothes are going to arrange themselves into “The Olivia Pope” business attire I want for the day. After a
thorough waste of my time, I will choose the same black pencil skirt from the day before and the same white button-up.
Run frantically to the bus stop while contemplating the importance of planning my outfit the night before to avoid this chaotic and sweaty run to catch the bus.
Ride the 310 bus to the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station.
Ride the blue line to Pentagon Station while actively trying to avoid looking at the chicken bones underneath a seat or that man’s tie decorated with penguin prints.
7:50 a.m. – 8:22 a.m.
Transfer to the yellow line at Pentagon Station and ride it to L’Enfant Station. From L’Enfant, transfer to the silver line and ride it to Capitol South Station—my last stop.
Arrive at Cannon House Office Building. A maintenance crew who believes 60 degrees is the ideal office temperature immediately makes me regret not bringing a jacket. If Rep. Thompson is in the office, I organize his newspapers and place them on the right side of his desk.
8:40 a.m. – 11:45a.m.
Unroll phones, which deactivates the voicemail mode and allows calls to come through. Check the voicemail box. Check my calendar and email for invitations to briefings.
Collect and compile news articles from the past 24 hours.
As I gather news articles, I do my best to avoid the Napa Valley Register’s list of cute pets for adoption. Complete writing the Congressional Record Statement (CRS) from the day before, then deliver the CRS to the Democratic Cloakroom. Answer calls from concerned constituents regarding our deteriorating democracy, Trump’s tweets or possible impeachment. These calls are all logged to make sure the constituent gets a response. Take phone calls from other representatives’ offices or the White House. Print the congressman’s schedules and prepare his “Take Home” binder. Buy a 3 feet by 5 feet cotton flag from the Supply Store, pack the flag and deliver it to The Flag House Building. Rep. Thompson’s office sends flags to constituents at their request for funerals or other occasions. Send out constituent letters. Rep. Thompson insists that every constituent who contacted him via email, phone call or mail receives a response. The letters address the concerns of the constituents and express Rep. Thompson’s stance on the issues. Answer more phone calls.
12 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Take the underground subway to Hart Senate Office Building to meet fellow interns for a brief lunch. Walk to Union Station in the sweltering heat to the nearest Chick-fil-A. We discuss our failed attempts to do something “memorable” together and propose a new plan as if the next one will come to fruition.
12:45 p.m. – 1:20 p.m.
Collect co-sponsorship signatures from different representatives’ offices. Stay focused when walking by Rep. Joe Kennedy III in the halls of Rayburn House Office Building. No fan-girling over his shiny red hair or cute freckles. Again, stay calm when taking the elevator with Rep. John Lewis. Pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming that a civil rights leader is indeed having a casual, “How is your day going?” conversation with me. What is happening?!
1:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
Give constituents a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building. In the Capitol Rotunda, I place my mixed political views aside and appreciate the fact I just walked past Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan.
3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Attend a short briefing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Write a memo summarizing the main points of the briefing and submit it to the staffer who handles foreign affairs. Sort and batch constituent emails and mail. Write a constituent letter responding to concerns regarding the renewal of the Farm Bill. Write another CRS honoring Napa’s retiring police chief. Draft an executive letter on behalf of a constituent who is requesting a personal tour of the White House Vinyl Collection. Submit the letter to the chief of staff for approval. Call all House committees and check for hearing rooms availability. Fill out reservation forms for all openings and book a room for a film screening hosted by Rep. Mike Thompson. Walk to FedEx in Eastern Market and mail legislative materials to the district offices. Answer more phone calls.
6:15 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Meet fellow interns in the tunnel of Cannon House Office Building. Go to a dinner at a nearby townhouse to meet “important” Capitol Hill staffers who will help me land bigger internships and find other employment opportunities. While dining on fresh mozzarella, encounter Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen.Dianne Feinstein and chat briefly with them about the current political climate.
9:10 p.m. – 10:45 p.m.
Go to the US Navy Memorial near Chinatown—my favorite thinking spot—and chat about my day with friends from Rep. Jared Huffman’s and Sen. Kamala Harris’s offices while admiring the beautiful architecture of the National Archives Building.
11 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Take the Uber home.
Set alarm. Fall into bed and look forward to another day.
As previously published in the Campus Chronicle, PUC’s student-led campus newspaper.