My Summer on the Hill

On my final day on Capitol Hill, I want to write a brief reflection on my time here this summer.  Since I have worked on the Hill before, I knew the ropes for the most part.  The biggest difference was that I switched chambers, now working in the Senate rather than the House of Representatives.  In the House I worked for Congressman Leonard Lance, who represents my district in New Jersey.  

This summer I worked in a committee, which is a very different environment than a personal office for an elected member.  In a member office, the phones ring off the hook, interns are constantly sorting through mail, both physical mail as well as a deluge of emails.  I have found that in a committee office, it is a much more relaxed environment.  Days in which our committee is holding a hearing are hectic, and there is always work to be done.  Not only during the preparation for the hearing, compiling comprehensive binders for the Senators in our committee, but also during the hearing, when we have to make sure everything runs smoothly.  The hearings are, after all, broadcast live.  

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Senate, learning the legislative procedure and how it differs from the House.  After working in both chambers, I can say definitively that I would prefer to work in the Senate if I find myself back on the Hill someday.  One of the biggest reasons is the nature of debate.  The members of the House are elected every two years, designed so that members are representative of the passions of the people.  In the Senate, on the other hand, they are elected every six years.  The purpose being that Senators are supposed to be more deliberative in their debate, and are able to focus on the big picture, long term trajectory of the country.  Each Senator also has more individual power, to continue debate on important issues, and to deny unanimous consent.  The Senate also has the unique constitutional authority to confirm presidential appointees, and to negotiate trade with other nations.  Since there are fewer members in the Senate, 100 as opposed to 435 in the House, there is generally more prestige.

This internship has offered me valuable insight into the legislative affairs of the federal government, at a rather tumultuous time when the President and the Senate have had a rocky relationship, and big issues have been debated such as healthcare.  I could not have asked for a more rewarding professional experience, and I have to thank Dickinson for the support they gave me throughout this whole process.  I look forward to what is in store for me down the road.     

Small Biz of the Month

Cofounders of Rohinni LLC

In this blog post I would like to highlight one of the projects I completed for the Senate Committee on Small Business.  Each month, our committee selects a small business of the month to commemorate with a write up and recognition from our committee chairman.  Since Senator Risch represents Idaho, we like to select a company from his state.  Our committee’s project doubles as constituent service and outreach.

I was tasked this month with finding a small business that would suite the small business of the month award.  Since Idaho is a very agricultural state, especially given its abundance of potatoes, most of the small business of the month awards have gone to agricultural businesses.  There’s no problem with that of course, but I wanted to go in a different direction.  Chairman Risch is a member of the Senate Semiconductor Caucus, which is a little known caucus that seeks to help manufacturers of semiconductors innovate, and navigate the federal government.

To get the full picture of the company I selected and why, here is the final product of the small business of the month award I wrote:

“Mr. President, today I would like to highlight the innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit that is found all over my home state of Idaho.  Every month, I recognize a small business owner from one of our Idaho communities who embodies the spirit of innovation and determination in delivering to the American people a product or service that makes a substantial difference in all our lives.  The small business that stands out to us this month has done just that by having an outsized influence on the electronic and lighting industries.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship I am pleased to honor Rohinni LLC as the Small Business of the Month for July 2017.

The future is bright for this Coeur d’Alene based technology startup.  Rohinni develops and manufactures LED lighting products.  Described as “The World’s Thinnest LED lighting”, the applications for this product are numerous. The company’s products have already been applied in many different fields, including the electronics and transportation sectors.

Cofounders Cody Peterson and Andy Huska began with a clever concept.  On one thin slice of conductive material, they were able to disperse thousands of micro-LED diodes to create glowing surfaces.  After further developing this innovative technique, they turned the concept into a successful company by mastering micro-LED placement.

Rohinni’s creative efforts have been recognized by several business and trade publications.  As one of the founders of the Senate Semiconductor Caucus, I recognize the  significance of these emerging technologies on the advancement of our nation’s scientific progress and the preservation of our global competitive edge.

It is my honor to recognize Cody Peterson and Andy Huska and the employees of Rohinni LLC who have made lasting contributions to the electronics industry.  You make our state proud, and I look forward to watching your continued growth and success.”

Doing projects like this one connected me to the chairman’s home state, modern and future technology, and the small role our committee played in intersecting the two.

Summer Recess

Meeting with Senator Risch for the last time before he departs for recess

Summer recess has officially begun on Capitol Hill, which means our lawmakers have left DC for their home states. Although the members of the House and Senate are technically on recess, that does not mean they can kick up their feet and relax just yet. It is common for lawmakers to hold town halls on pressing legislative and political issues, and to constantly meet their constituents so they have a better shot at getting reelected. Since members of the House have to run a campaign every two years, their work is endless in terms of how many hands they need to shake and how many fundraisers they need to hold.

The congressional staff of each lawmaker does, however, get a bit of a breather when Congress is out of session. Not only are the lines for coffee and the front entrance shorter, but the policy portfolio is also less dense. Despite a more relaxed atmosphere and lighter agenda, professional staff members and legislative assistants usually take advantage of this time to schedule meetings with interest groups, policy professionals, and constituents in order to learn about the issues they cover for Congress in more depth.

The interns have less to do. Although we continue to provide research support for the professional staff, a less hectic environment means that we have the opportunity to explore topics that interest us individually. We can also use this free time to network with people in our career fields of interest. I have taken full advantage of this, and I have learned a lot from a lot of interesting people. One of my main goals for this summer internship was to expand my professional network as much as I could, and I feel as though I have achieved that as my internship comes to a close at the end of this week.

I look forward to ending my internship this Friday on a high note, and am extremely grateful to the material and advisory support that Dickinson has given me on this professional experience.

Comic Relief at My Expense

 

Chairman Risch and Ranking Member Sen Shaheen speak to MSNBC about the six bills passed out of the Senate Small Business Committee on Wednesday

On Wednesday of this week my office, the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, held a markup, known as a business meeting, in which the Senators in our committee vote on bills that have gone through our committee with a simple “yay”, “nay” or abstention vote.  This markup is held in a room right outside of the Senate floor, so that when the Senators finish speaking or voting on the floor, they can stop in and quickly vote before going about their other business.  Although the vote is quick, it is still a very formal procedure.  Our committee clerk reads a statement and bangs the gavel, and after all the votes are in they have to bang the gavel again, ending the voting session.

These business meetings are usually held in the President’s room, which is a room in the US Capitol that is covered in intricate gold designs and fancy chandeliers, with red leather chairs.  It is a room truly designed for a head of state!

This week our committee voted on six different bills, which were all crafted in bipartisan fashion, and none were controversial.  As a result, they all passed unanimously.  These bills provided cyber security training to small businesses, and also qualified the Zika virus shutdowns of local businesses as natural disasters, so small businesses would be able to qualify for loans from the Small Business Administration to maintain credit and cash flow.  As Florida’s senator, a state most affected by the Zika virus, Marco Rubio pushed hard for that bill.

My task was to hold a sign that read “Small Business Committee Markup Room S-26” so that when Senators walked off the Senate floor they would not forget to vote on our bills.  I positioned myself between the exit of the floor and the main elevators, amongst a swarm of reporters.  Every time a Senator would walk to and from the elevators, the reporters would move in to try to get their next scoop.  Every Senator that walked by gave the reporters at least a few seconds of their time to answer a couple questions.  

I successfully reminded Senator Hirono of Hawaii to vote, which she responded with a puzzled “oh, that’s right”.  My job was officially worthwhile.  As the last Senator I needed to scout out was leaving the floor, I approached him with my sign held up and I asked him if he had already voted.  Senator Kennedy was the only Senator around at that time, and the 15 or so reporters were silently typing away or watching my exchange.  Kennedy stood still, looked down at my sign and then back up at me, and then took the sign out of my hands, turned it right side up, and put it back in my hands.  The sign was, unbeknownst to me, upside down as I presented it to the Senator.  With a pat on the arm, Kennedy said “happens to the best of us” as all the reporters broke out into laughter, including some of the Capitol police who were standing nearby.

I will never forget that embarrassing moment, and it reminded me that even though you can plan and plan for things, sometimes dumb mistakes still happen.  With all the seriousness on the Hill that day, I like to think I at least provided a bit of comic relief to those reporters.  

Kushner in the House

 

A grainy picture I snapped of Jared Kushner departing the auditorium after his speech

Earlier this week senior adviser to the President Jared Kushner stopped by Capitol Hill to speak with congressional interns.  His speech was coordinated by the House Rules Committee, which hosts speakers from all political and policy backgrounds every summer.  This provides us young interns who are just beginning our professional lives the opportunity to hear from public figures who are of considerable prominence, with superb credentials.  

Past speakers this summer include Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, multiple senators, generals, and congressmen and women.  This summer, I was only able to attend two sessions, one with Representative Mike Gallagher, and this week with Jared Kushner.  I attempted to see Speaker Ryan’s speech, but showing up 45 minutes prior left me and my fellow interns 400th in line, and we did not get in.

With this in mind, the other interns in my committee and I left our office two hours before Kushner was scheduled to speak, to ensure a spot in the large auditorium in the Capitol Visitor Center.  The two hours flew by, thanks to IPhone games and power naps, and before we knew it we were seated in the fourth row with a great view of the podium.

Before Kushner took the stage, the director of the intern lecture series walked up to the mic and stated that she had heard rumors that a few interns in the room had been instructed to record Kushner’s speech and live stream it for their congressional offices and media organizations.  The great thing about these lectures is that they are all off the record, which means members of congress can give real advice and insight to Capitol Hill interns who are intending on going into politics.  With an off the record promise, these public officials do not have to be overly careful about what they say, a sharp departure than their usual stump speeches and interviews in front of the camera where every word is parsed.  An off the record helps establish a more relaxed and open environment which is conducive to learning.  This does not mean that any member of congress or official has said anything controversial, it just means that they can be slightly more critical of their own party, or the President, without a news headline popping up which puts them in a politically dangerous position.  

So anyway, the director of the program urged us all to NOT leak any information about the lecture to anyone outside the room.  

Kushner gave a very insightful speech which included solid career advice and thoughts on how to navigate Washington DC as a political novice, which he was before he began working on his father-in-law’s campaign for President.  After his speech, he took un-vetted questions from the crowd of interns, to which he gave long and thoughtful responses.  

After the lecture, I returned to my office and the first thing I saw online was an article detailing everything Kushner had said, with exact quotes.

It would be naive to think that with a guest as politically charged as Jared Kushner, many interns would not record his off the record session.  Yet it was still disappointing.  Regardless of party affiliation, or opinions of Kushner himself, I believe that he still deserves the basic courtesies of remaining off the record if that is the rule of the speaker series.  

As we see nearly every day, DC is and probably always will be notorious for leaks!  

A Healthy Debate on the Hill

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Majority Leader McConnell briefs reporters on GOP Healthcare efforts

This past week has been full of legislative drama on Capitol Hill. For anyone not following the major network coverage of events recently, the GOP Senate healthcare bill did not receive enough support from Republican Senators to pass a vote, so Majority Leader McConnell pulled the bill from consideration. Even though the Republicans hold 52 out of 100 seats in the Senate, and Senator McConnell only needed 50 votes (with Vice President Pence having the constitutional authority to cast a tie breaking vote, which he would in this scenario), too many GOP Senators stated they would not vote for this bill if it was brought to the floor. Why would the majority party in the Senate fail to garner enough votes, even if they had two more seats than they needed?

This is because of the incredible complexity of healthcare policy across the country. Since each state has different needs, constituencies, preferences, cultures, and histories, the Senators they elect every six years are some reflection of this. Therefore, Senators from the same political parties do not necessarily have ideologies that neatly align. There are liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats on certain policy areas. For example, a Democrat from Vermont will likely have very different opinions on fiscal policy than a Democrat from Arkansas. In the case of healthcare, Senator Murkowski of Alaska views the proposed cuts to Medicaid that were included in the healthcare bill negatively given the high number of Alaskans that are currently on Medicaid. The Medicaid portion of the bill was one of the primary reasons for Republican Senators defecting from Sen McConnell’s bill, since it would be to a certain extent politically damaging for their reelection bids, but especially because of the impact those cuts would have on the citizens they represent.

To make matters more complicated for Majority Leader McConnell, multiple GOP Senators have also opposed his new initiative to bring a repeal-only bill to the floor for a vote this Monday. This bill is very similar to the legislation that the Senate passed in 2015 to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which was vetoed by President Obama. The Senators that are opposed to this now repeal-only, rather than repeal-and-replace, are not comfortable with repealing the healthcare law without a viable replacement ready to go. This puts the GOP in a tough spot, given that they campaigned for nearly 7 years on repealing the act commonly known as Obamacare. In order to follow through on that promise, Sen McConnell is eager to bring a repeal bill to the floor, but to get to that point he will need 50 votes. With the stated opposition already from multiple Senators to even bring this to the floor, the troubles for Sen McConnell grow.

Throughout this process, Senators can offer amendments to the bill that offer new and fresh ideas of what direction to take healthcare policy. Senators Graham and Cassidy, for example, are offering ideas to empower statehouses around the country to come up with custom healthcare models that work best in their states. There is also the Cruz Amendment, offered of course by Senator Cruz, that allows insurance companies to offer more affordable plans, with less coverage, to individuals with lower risk of needing care.

There will be many more twists in the healthcare saga, but my hope is that the final result will ultimately have a positive impact on our nation.

It Wouldn’t be Politics Without Protests

There is never a dull day on Capitol Hill. As the Senate GOP rolled out its healthcare plan, known as the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017”, the halls of congress were buzzing with protests. Most were against the bill, although a small few were in favor. In dramatic fashion, concerned citizens gathered in front of Majority Leader Sen McConnell’s office in the Russell Senate Building to make their voices heard. They blocked the hallway with about 25 wheelchaired protesters who were worried about losing medicare coverage under the Republican bill. Since Senator McConnell’s office is a floor below mine, I needed to see the action up close.

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Protesters are removed from Sen McConnell’s office by the US Capitol Police

One of the best parts of working on Capitol Hill is being witness to some outrageous events, and some that could end up shaping history. Hearings before various committees have the potential to change the political winds in DC, and across the country, through testimonies such as former FBI director James Comey’s. I was also right down the hall when intelligence officials testified that the Russian government was involved in meddling in the US election process.

So far this internship could not be more ideal for where I want to be professionally. And of course, I have Dickinson to thank for not only providing the funds so I can live and eat, but also the professional development atmosphere that has been fostered inside and outside the classroom. The professors in the International Studies department, which is my major, go to the extra effort of making sure their lectures provoke critical thinking that us students take with us to the real world. Outside the classroom, Dickinson’s alumni network is lively and effective, and it is thanks to a recent alumnus that I received an offer for this internship. So it is safe to say I would not be here if it was not for the connections I made through Dickinson’s network.

Working in the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee is the ideal platform for my personal job search. Not only is Capitol Hill the Mecca of American politics, but working in a committee that is focused on helping businesses succeed in America means I also have exposure to the private sector. Moving forward, many career paths have been opened up, which is also due to the fact that I have taken every opportunity possible to meet new people, some just starting out in their careers, and others who are quite experienced. I am extremely lucky to be on track to fulfill my summer goals of opening up career options, some new ones as well that I was not aware of, and meeting career professionals. My main interest of US foreign policy still persists as my north star for my career ahead.

While I have been very focused on my daily work, a breath of fresh air outside of work is a must for anyone working full time. There is so much to do in DC, from free museums to spacious arboretums. Each neighborhood of DC has a unique style for the most part, whether it’s the structure of the buildings or the choices of foods from around the world. If anyone says they are bored in DC, they are not to be trusted!

So far my summer has been very rewarding, and I am excited for what next week has in store. In politics, as in life, everything can change in a moment’s notice!

From Dickinson to The District

This summer is certainly an interesting time to be working on Capitol Hill.  With a new administration in the White House and some shifting of seats in Congress, the legislators by now have settled in, ready to serve.  President Trump and the Republican party have put forth an ambitious agenda for the outset of the administration, including reforms of healthcare, infrastructure, and the tax system.

As an intern for the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I have the unique opportunity to see the impact of these legislative items on small business in the US.  I also have the benefit of being able to track legislation outside the reach of our committee in both the House and the Senate.  

On the fourth floor of the Russell Senate Office Building, C-Span hums daily in the background as the committee staff responds to concerned constituents, researches legislation, and organizes hearings.  In this environment I am able to absorb a lot of knowledge while also contributing to the mission of the committee, which is to aid small businesses and provide oversight to the SBA, the Small Business Administration.

This morning the Senate is in full swing, and our staff is preparing for a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.  During a typical hearing Senators on the committee will ask witnesses, who have value to add concerning small business in the US, multiple questions to inform their, and their staffs, knowledge which may lead to legislation.  Every committee is divided into two entities, the majority and the minority, which depends on which party controls a majority of the Senate.  Currently, the majority offices are occupied by Republican Senators and staff.  These members include Chairman Risch of Idaho, Sen Rubio (Fla), Sen Paul (Ky), Sen Scott (SC), Sen Ernst (Iowa), Sen Inhofe (OK), Sen Young (IN), Sen Enzi (Wyo), Sen Rounds (SD), and Sen Kennedy (LA).

The minority half of the committee is led by Ranking Member Shaheen (NH), Sen Cantwell (Wash), Sen Cardin (Md), Sen Heitkamp (ND), Sen Markey (Mass), Sen Booker (NJ), Sen Coons (Del), Sen Hirono (Hawaii), and Sen Duckworth (IL).

This Wednesday our committee will hear testimony from three witnesses under the topic of “Tax Reform: Removing Barriers to Small Business Growth”.  Both sides of the Small Business Committee are committed to finding bipartisan solutions to making it easier for small businesses across the country to navigate the tax code, which committee staff have labeled “burdensome, complicated, and uncertain”.  This is an interesting legislative topic to me, especially given the huge role of small businesses in the US economy.

Beyond the walls of Congress, Washington DC is an incredible city to live and work in.  The metro is very accessible and surprisingly very consistent this summer (but I may have just jinxed it).  Although I am very familiar with the city, there is still a lot to see and explore during my time here.  Above all, I am thankful I have the opportunity to live, eat, sleep, and travel within DC due to financial help from Dickinson, and the amazing network of alumni it maintains.  It was through the connection to a Dickinson alumnus in DC that I was able to secure this internship, and I have also met a lot of Dickinson alumni in the city that work in fields I am interested in.

I look forward to a productive and enjoyable summer here in the capital city.   

(Photo of Russell Senate Office Building courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol)