For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with American history. From the Revolutionary War to the present day, America has a rich history. So much of that history is determined by what happens in the United States Capitol. From moments of division, such as when Senator Sumner was viciously beaten with a cane by a congressman during the Civil War, to moments of great unity, like when the Senate unanimously voted to bring our nation’s enemies to justice after 9/11, our Capitol is a place of reverence.
Despite being a place of political division, Capitol Hill can be a place for Christians to reflect Christ within the realm of their civic duty. I knew I would want to experience that up close, and an internship on the Hill would give me that chance. When I was accepted as a summer intern in the office of Senator Thom Tillis, I kept all of this in mind. I will describe what that experience was like and key takeaways from it.
For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility…for through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father. – Ephesians 2:14,18
Understand Your Civic Responsibilities
Generally speaking, an internship on the Hill entails being a helping hand in the office of the elected official you are working for. This is not limited to answering thousands of phone calls from constituents, attending meetings, giving capitol tours, conducting legislative research, and writing memos or constituent correspondences for the representative and their staff. Because you are granted a staff ID, minus a few exceptions, you are allowed access anywhere in the Capitol building. Because there are hundreds of lawmakers, each office’s internship program is different. Some offices keep their interns in the office, while others allow their interns to explore the Capitol, and, more or less, make the internship what they want. Thankfully, my office was the latter.
Answering phones from constituents is a staple of interning on the Hill. For me, this entailed listening to concerns or suggestions and writing those concerns down to be viewed by Senator Tillis. Sometimes, people would call about serious policy proposals. Other times, people would call angry about a policy stance that the senator had taken, or people called just to have someone to talk to. I never minded answering the phones, and because we had five interns and a relatively low call volume, I only had a few hours of scheduled phone time per week. I also wrote memos for the staff on anything from policy issues to recent news. An amusing moment for me was knowing that I wrote a memo on Mt. Olives Pickle company that was used to brief Senator Tills before his visit.
One great thing was my office was lenient with where I was, so I was able to go almost wherever I wanted if I was accounted for and finished my work. I used this time to attend as many committee meetings as possible. These meetings are small gatherings between senators that oversee specific issue areas. I discovered if I walked into those meetings, not looking like the stereotypical, lost, intern, people would not question my attendance, and I could finagle my way in. I attended meetings on issues such as DACA and immigration to issues in the Supreme Court. I was able to see senators such as Ben Sasse, Amy Klobuchar, Ted Cruz, and Jon Ossoff.
My relationship with Senator Tillis was great. Senator Tillis had seen dozens of intern classes come through his office, but nevertheless, he was extremely personable and took time to talk to us interns whenever he was around. Senator Tillis knew our names and facts about us, which was admirable for a person as busy as he is. A highlight of my time on the Hill is when the Senator came into our intern room and decided just to sit down and talk. For a good forty minutes, the Senator chatted and answered questions from the interns, like he was talking to friends.
My favorite moment of the internship was when I had the opportunity to go on the Senate floor and watch the senators vote. Generally, the floor is restricted to the senators, a select number of staff, and Capitol Police. For traditional office staff to be allowed on the floor, a senator would have to request those privileges from the presiding officer from the floor. With our internship winding down, Senator Tillis asked the interns if we would like to be on the floor while the senators voted. I could not have said yes fast enough. An hour later, we watched Senator Tillis request our floor privileges by name from the Senate floor on C-SPAN. It was an amazing moment, and our Press Secretary found the clip and sent it to us, which I was able to share with my parents. Being on the floor was incredible. We witnessed an argument between the senators on an amendment that seemed straight out of the movies. One by one, we saw the senators come into the chamber and vote on the bill. It was an unforgettable experience and one I will cherish.
Realize Your Influence
As exciting as things were when the Senate was in session, out of session (when the senators went back to their States) things slowed down. I did more office work during this time, such as adding contacts to our database, answering phones, sorting mail, and helping the staff out where they needed it. Gone were the suit and tie, and in came business casual clothing. It was strange to be around senators flocked by the press corps one week to not seeing any lawmakers the next. Nonetheless, I am appreciative of where I was and the privilege I had working at the Capitol. Even during the times when the task I was working on did not seem all that important, I was motivated by one of my favorite Bible verses, Luke 16:10.
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much. – Luke 16:1
Interning with Senator Tillis was a fantastic experience that created lifelong memories. It was awesome to see the government in action, learn more about how it functions, and meet so many wonderful people. I would highly recommend interning on the Hill for anyone interested in politics and government, and it can be a unique experience to intertwine your faith with politics.