Welcome to the Hill
Kathleen McCarthy '18 - September 9, 2016
Wow, the day was finally here. As I walked to work down C Street toward the Longworth House Office Building to intern for US Congressman Dave Trott, Michigan, I was overwhelmed with a million different emotions. It all hit me all at once that I was actually in DC and this was my “home on the Hill” for the next three months. The Capitol is intimidating, the combination of endless police, walking through body scanners, and just physically entering the building itself was frightening, but I was determined to embrace the unknown and be confident in myself. The directory, with so many different names, offices, and numbers. This was overwhelming and I hadn’t even made it to Dave’s office yet. I arrived at 8:22 a.m. (Life tip: if you’re not early, you’re late.) I was greeted by Dave’s scheduler and one of his legislative assistants, I was excited even while it was so scary. I literally knew nothing. Thankfully, one of the winter interns was still around so she was able to show me the ropes. We walked around Longworth to do a mini tour. I was amazed, first of all, a majority of the Democrats sport jeans attire on days when the House is not in session—a bold move. And second, there are actually tunnels connecting all the different buildings—even one that goes from Longworth to the Capitol. Whoever came up with this idea was a genius—how efficient! Like any new job, I was astonished by all the different things I needed to memorize, how to deal with angry constituents, how to give out staff emails, how not to do things, how to write letters,and in two weeks I’m sure I’ll look back at myself and laugh for being scared and semi-lost. I am slowly becoming more confident on the phone.
I wasn't as excited to begin the work week two. Because this year is an election year, things on the Hill are gruelingly slow. Congress men and women are not interested in working toward passing controversial legislation. My main task as an intern revolved around the phone—when I wasn’t on the phone, I was waiting for the phone to ring. I got good at predicting when constituents will be calling and complaining about just by watching the news. For example, a hot topic this week was the transgender bathroom legislation.
One interesting, yet exhausting, thing I did this week, was going around to 25 different congressional offices to get signatures from representatives for a letter my boss was sending to the White House. It was interesting seeing how offices from different states are set up. The Alaska office had a bear skin hanging on the wall. Cheers to the Second Amendment.
In other news from my life on the Hill—today I input over 200 survey results into an Excel spreadsheet. It was the most tedious task I have done since freshman year algebra.
By week three I sensed people in the office were getting more comfortable with me and realizing that I'm not a complete idiot. Yay. That meant I would be assigned more tasks—I was getting so bored reading everything on every news outlet on the internet all day long. We began sending out constituent mail, which meant that we interns folded 500+ letters. I wasn't thrilled, but I learned that this mail would help the Congressman reach out to his constituents and keep them happy—one of his top priorities while in Congress.
This week I got to participate in Capitol tour training. I learned everything from how to give a tour (which is actually quite fun) to what to do if the capitol is suddenly under attack while in the midst of giving a tour. I was excited to give tours. My boss is passionate about keeping his constituents happy, and one of the easiest ways is giving excellent capitol tours. Plus, it is always great to get out of the office for an hour and speak with constituents! As weeks three and four came to a close, following Memorial Day weekend, I began to feel more comfortable in the office and more confident it what I was doing.
Toward the end of May, sadly the staff assistant left. But because I had proved my competence, our chief appointed me the glorified intern/staff assistant for two weeks until she was able to find someone to fill the position. I was actually really excited, because, not only did it mean that I was absolutely killing it at this whole intern thing, but it also meant that I would get to see what it is like to be a staff assistant for a Congressman. A staff assistant is basically the main receptionist and tour coordinator for Congressional offices. It was very confusing, at first, trying to figure out all the tricks of being a tour coordinator while keeping constituents happy. But it was also really fun and rewarding. When I would complete a tour request, constituents would always be so thankful for my efforts and thank Congressman Trott immensely. I felt as though I was, not only accomplishing a lot as an intern, but also well-representing Congressman Trott.
I gave my first tour this week and was actually quite nervous. While I felt like I knew what to say on the tour in my head, I did not know how well I would interact with the actual constituents. Thankfully, the tour went well and the constituents were very pleased. I was confident that I would be able to give excellent Capitol tours this summer.
Some of my important tasks this week included scheduling rooms for constituents who were holding an event in the Capitol in September, and also accompanying our guest chaplain, Father Mina Essak, and his guests to the House gallery, where Father would do the opening prayer for the day. Father’s guests included members of our legislative assistants, Mena’s family. Mena later told me this week that his family loved me and could not stop talking about how well I treated them and that the kindness I displayed truly embodied what the Congressman would want all of his employees to display to guests.
I was loving life in Washington, and it was week five was when I realized that I would love to work on the Hill and live in this amazing city following graduation.
Between balancing scheduling tours and acting as Staff Assistant, I was still giving one or two tours a week. Mena, one of the Congressman’s legislative assistants had taken me under his wing and would ask me to do a lot of new things for him. Some, at times were tedious, but because I got to go to different places or call different people, I was becoming more and more professional—learning how to act and present myself on the Hill. I was thankful that I had earned Mena’s trust because it meant that I was doing well. I was intimidated by him at first, but now he trusts me and can count on me to do whatever task he needed done the right way.
This week was also fun because the Congressman’s bipartisan bill was on the floor and it passed! Yay! Now it would go over to the Senate for a full vote, and then if it passed, would reach the White House. I had the opportunity to sit in the gallery and watch the Congressman speak on the floor regarding his bill. While a lot of bills are passed everyday in the House, it was particularly cool to see the Congressman’s bill pass because I work for him and I have known Mr. Trott my whole life. It was amazing to be able to witness this moment.
As week six came to a close, I was able to reflect on how thankful I was to be here in Washington—not only was this an amazing opportunity, but I had been blessed to work in such a great office for a truly great Congressman. I was loving my time in Washington and I was so excited for what other opportunities would come my way throughout the rest of the summer.
Week seven was very interesting not just in Washington, but the entire country. Over the weekend, sadly the deadliest shooting in American history occurred in Orlando, Florida. It was a chilling time on Capitol Hill—both parties were outraged that a man who was on the terror watch list was able to walk into a nightclub and shoot and kill more than 40 people. Once I saw this on the news, I knew it was going to be a crazy week. The calls that we would get in the office were going to be out of control—and rightfully so. It was obvious that there needed to be some form of gun legislation introduced in both the House and Senate and in order for it to pass, it had to be bipartisan. This is Washington, so nothing is that simple. The Democrats were outraged with the Republicans, so they staged a sit-in to on the House floor. This was amazing. I was literally witnessing history. It was crazy. The phones were ringing off the hook. At one point, I saw four different people on the phone with constituents. I would barely hang up the phone when it would ring again. It was frustrating at the time, but looking back, it was admirable what these people were doing—you could grasp the emotion that Americans had toward the gun control issue. It was awesome to be able to witness this moment in history.
I had become a full blown pro and I felt like my time in Washington was worthwhile and I was learning a lot about how a congressional office works. Being an intern was easy and I realized that the key to being taken seriously on the Hill is to present yourself confidently—something that I learned quite quickly.
Week nine was so exciting for me. It was the start of the two long, dreadful weeks before the House went on summer recess. I had the opportunity to attend an intern seminar that was hosted by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He spoke about how he worked his way up on the Hill and what he would recommend for beginning a career in DC after graduation. I was in a room with at least 50 interns so there wasn't an opportunity to meet him, but it was still great to hear him speak.
Then something crazy happened, my boss was hosting a fundraiser that same night and the Majority Leader was the guest speaker. Our entire staff was invited to the fundraiser and when Mr. McCarthy walked in, he shook everyone’s hand introducing himself. I only said my first name when he got to me, but he stopped for a minute and said, “Wait a minute, were you at my seminar earlier today?” I was in shock. I replied, “Yes I was!” and he asked, “Well, how did I do?” this was all happening in front of my boss, our entire staff, and the fundraiser attendees. Then all the sudden our chief of staff says, “Kathleen, did you tell the Leader your last name?!” To which he turns to me and asks me what it is, I reply “It’s McCarthy as well.” He lights up and exclaims, “Well where’s your phone? We have to take a picture!” Our entire staff was in shock. It was so cool and it was a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life. After that night, I realized how much I loved being in DC and it reminded me that you truly never know who you will meet and who you will leave an impression on.
Instead of journaling for the next three weeks while we were out of session, I decided to conclude the three weeks in this section and review on my experience in DC as a whole.
The last three weeks of my internship I became a pro at writing constituent mail. We accumulated a lot of mail from being in session for almost five weeks straight, and it was my task to try to respond to as much mail as possible. Writing constituent letters was actually kind of fun because it gave me something to do during the day, plus it let me experience what it’s like to be a legislative correspondent for a congressional office.
It was truly an honor to intern in such a great office and for an equally wonderful boss. If I hadn’t been in such a good office, I wouldn’t have gotten the same experience on the Hill and for that I am forever grateful.