Trust and Expansion of Opportunities

To me, the atmosphere during session is electrifying; I’ve sought to immerse myself in floor procedure and to follow pending legislative packages in Rules committee – the committee that essentially that determines the fate and amendment status of legislation prior to its appearance on the House Floor.  But while session is nothing short of exciting, every staffer’s favorite part of the year is the August ‘recess.’  Members keep busy for 5-6 weeks in their home districts to reconnect with their constituencies, host town halls, and engage in different trips/meetings. While the workload picks up for the respective district offices, August for Hill staffers is ‘catch-up time.’ From my experiences, I find that August is the best time to ask more questions, meet staffers for coffee, and take greater initiative on projects.

Every summer during August recess, the two senior legislative team members, Liz and Kate, invite the female staffers in our office out for a female professional development lunch, so this past week, they took my supervisor (Rachel) and I.  I walked away from the lunch feeling empowered, as they both had expressed that they trusted me to do good work, which is why they have expanded opportunities for me to work on different projects.  Kate, the staffer who handles the Congresswoman’s Veteran Affairs committee assignment, told me during lunch she would normally never send an intern in place of her for majority party, committee staff meetings for legislative assistants, but that she trusted me when I went to attend one for her last week.  The briefing regarded the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Investigator analyzing challenges within the wait times for veteran’s access to primary care; the meeting was to clarify expected testimony from Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) witnesses, who were scheduled to appear before the committee in an upcoming hearing.  I prepared a memo on the briefing and included potential areas to question witnesses’ testimony, which Kate then gave to the Congresswoman in her hearing binder that she takes to each committee business meeting.

Right after this week’s lunch meeting, which was filled with questions and discussions on #FemaleEmpowerment, Liz (the Legislative Director) gave me the opportunity to help out on a project with the New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus consisting of over 100 Members, which the Congresswoman holds a leadership role within.  The NDC needs help researching and creating a system to track all NDC Members’ carried legislation in order to vet items for NDC endorsement/consistency with the caucus’s legislative priorities.  Liz sent my name to one of the staffers for the NDC, who then listed the information needed for every legislative item, such as the legislation’s status, committee assignment, applicable bipartisan sponsorship, and whether the it reported out of a committee to the House Calendar.  For the past few days (and through next Friday) I’ve been collecting the data and formatting it to be easily accessible.  From this master list of all NDC members’ sponsored legislation, the NDC staffers can then filter through for certain issue tags, to look for legislation that the full caucus can endorse, cosponsor, and shepherd through to the House Floor.  As I continue this project, I am excited to work with both the NDC and within the Congresswoman’s office, as it will give me greater insight to how caucuses can collectivize to push forward legislation, even if it is not on Committee or House leaderships’ agendas.

Throughout this internship, I am mindful (especially now since we’re in August recess) to ask staffers questions about how the legislative process works, how they respond for the Congresswoman on what’s going on in the news, and how they generally prepare research for her. From engaging with staffers and from my personal research on legislative processes, I’ve better developed skillsets that allow me to provide higher quality work products for staffers, and to help lead/answer questions on projects alongside my intern coworkers.  My lunch with Kate, Liz, and Rachel helped to put my outside efforts and contributions into perspective this week (ultimately inspiring this reflection category); they expressed that they’ve noticed my work ethic, and encouraged me to continue using everyone in the office as resources.