IamA former Congressional Staffer - AMA!
My short bio: I was an intern fresh out of college then staffer to a member of the House of Representatives for 3 1/2 years. It was a crazy but valuable experience that I look back on with sometimes fond (but more frequently WTF) memories. Came out with enough political gossip for a lifetime.
My Proof: Congressional ID: http://imgur.com/a/G4Lz1
There are still some good members out there that want to work with others on either side of party lines and pass good legislation. However, because of the heavy lobbyist influence on the Hill this is the minority. I don't think the integrity of the democratic process can be restored without campaign finance reform.
Definitely agreed. Thanks for the AMA.
They tried campaign finance reform dozens of times. In the end, the complexity of the rules only served to shut out third parties to the process.
There has to be a way to do it. I don't think they were ever really committed to making it work.
How realistic is House of Cards?
Realistic in some aspects and unrealistic in others. Backdoor deals among politicians? Absolutely, thats the name of the game. A whole lot of shady sexual shenanigans? You betcha. People getting murdered? Not so much. Or hey, maybe I was just far too low on the totem pole to know about that...
Also so unrealistic that the majority whip spent no time whatsoever on the floor of the House.
By campaign finance reform, would you continue to make it illegal for someone like Dinesh D'Souza to funnel money to the campaign of a no name candidate?
Yes, any campaign contributions that are made under falsified names and reports should be illegal.
What do you think of groups like Wolf-PAC and others who seek to amend the constitution or find other avenues to get private money out of the electoral process?
I'm very supportive of groups like Wolf-PAC and their goals. Unfortunately, I don't think private money will be out of the electoral process unless we amend the constitution to ensure it stays out. As someone who witnessed the lobbyist influence on a day-to-day basis for over three years, I can safely say nothing less than a constitutional amendment would keep these people from polluting the process.
So how influential do you think oil and gas money is when it comes to investigating things like the contamination of wells from fracking? Is there any other explanation for why the EPA flipped on their decision regarding the safety of the water in Dimock, PA? When it comes to environmental issues, can science stand up to money?
I think the oil industry is one of the largest and most influential lobbying groups out there - from my perception, they are up there with the pharmaceutical industry and AIPAC as the monster-size lobbyists. I worked on environmental issues so the oil industry was always a pain in my neck - even working for a liberal leaning democrat, i had to make my case time and time again for the member to support science-based env't policies. I think science can stand up to money but it is like David and Goliath. You are definitely the little guy in the fight and everyone expects you to lose....hell you probably will. But you have to come at it 100x harder with the hope you'll win one day.
Sidenote - was a lot going on with the keystone pipeline when I was in congress, a lot of dems even supported it...including the White House. I was pretty disgusted, given the clear scientific evidence for the env't impact of the project. But that just clarified to me how influential the oil lobby truly is.
That's not influence, that UGLY REALITY, we need cheap energy or we're toast. Maybe in 15-50 years we'll have renewable energy worked out. For now, we need massive amounts of energy, and domestic oil and gas keep us from having to slash and burn through several more foreign wars to keep the oil flowing.
What else you wanna do? Coal? Most mines are pretty unsafe, or use mountaintop removal. Nuclear power seems to get the liberals in a tizzy, and the trial lawyers slavering over all the bogus illness scams they'll be able to cash in on. Windmills? We got em, loads of em, all out in the middle of nowhere where the population is nil.
Most of the oil from the pipeline wouldn't even go to U.S. markets. The vast % of the oil is already contracted out to non-U.S. entities. And it certainly wouldn't be cheap. If you study the history of the pipeline and the involved parties that is pretty blatantly obvious.
Oh, thought they were talking about gas well fraking.
Dunno much about the heavy crude market. Think most of it's going to plastics, bunker oil for ships, and whatever else.
Think they bumped that pipeline over as far as they can to avoid the ogalala and the others without getting close enough to be in the Missouri River watershed.
Not an expert on fracking at all, so can't comment. And its more the refining of the crude oil, which would release a shitload of toxins in the air...this would happen in TX at the end of the pipeline.
I'm hopeful for solar. If Germany can do it while getting about as much sun as the Pacific Northwest, we can absolutely do it.
Definitely worth a shot!
longworth, rayburn, or cannon?
I was in both cannon and longworth. But as for my fav, cannon definitely wins.
Rayburn wins with me just because they usually have better food in the cafeteria. Only problem is that it's so damn easy to get lost in that building.
Its a g.d. labyrinth.
How old were you when you got the position and how did you manage to get it over others? I ask because I am about to graduate college and was thinking of doing some sort of internship soon, so any other advice is also greatly appreciated
I was 21 when I graduated college and moved to DC. I actually wanted to intern at a nonprofit and had no interest in the Hill - but my uncle actually knew a member's chief of staff quite well & convinced me I should give Congress a try - which is how I got my starting internship in a House member's office. I then got hired by another office three months later as a 'staff assistant' aka staff ass - the 'beginning' position on the Hill so to speak. I knew their office was hiring one so I basically badgered them until they agreed to interview me.
Ah that was what I figured, you had a family member who knew somebody. I feel like with politics ( and I suppose much in life ) this is a pivotal thing
Yeah its a shitty cliche but its true in my case. However, we had a lot of interns that came to us through college programs and the like or were referred by programs at their college - you may want to try that route? It is totally possible to get one w/o a connection but you may just have to be more persistent.
I got hired on as staff and knew no one on the Hill except my own representative. I worked on his campaigns for a few years to make my way in. This career path is open to anyone, not just those with connections. You can make your own connections.
Agreed - it can be done.
where'd you go to college?
To a state school - could not afford to go out-of-state, let alone anywhere private.
So any connections you have to get your foot in the door will help tremendously - thats just the nature of the Hill. Or if you have worked/volunteered for a member in their district office back home - thats also a good stepping stone. I knew a lot of people that moved from the district office to DC.
What type of hats do you like to wear?
Pillbox - I like to keep it classy.
I was actually randomly compelled to post an AskReddit today for anyone near positions of power/influence/economics/war/etc. to reply with anything they think the public should know about the world that they probably don't with all of the information overload/static we're bombarded by.
So I'll ask you! From what you've experienced/learned, is there anything the public should know that most of us don't already? Is there anything we suspect but don't have first-hand confirmation? Is there anything the public has hope for that you know we're most likely fucked on? Feel free to speak on some of that.
It doesn't have to be specific (though specific is great!), it can even just be perspectives on general outlooks/attitudes and how things really are versus how we might suspect/want them to be.
So... are we fucked?
I think most are aware of the sad state of affairs in Congress, so not sure if there is anything I could enlighten the public on. But just to confirm, it is very much reality that politics have become more about survival - how to stay in office - as opposed to accomplishing anything of merit while actually in office. And a lot of members feel just as hopeless and frustrated with the situation as the public at-large are - I think many members do come into office genuinely wanting to make a difference, but unless they have backbones of steel, they become jaded fairly quickly.
Wait, so the whole thing really IS a clusterfuck?
I guess I'm not surprised. What a mess.
That's my take on the House at the moment. The Senate actually cranks out a lot of meaningful bipartisan work but then of course you face that challenge of getting it passed in the House. I don't even think Republican leadership in the House feel that have much power to do what they want - they are under immense pressure from the far right and face the fear of being outed by Tea Party candidates if they are seen working with dems or as not being sufficiently conservative. Nobody really wins in the current situation.
If your opinion, has the Tea Party done more harm than good? Will it take a Democratic takeover of the Senate AND House before this mess we're in cleans up?
Definitely more harm than good. And possibly, if Rs lose control of the House then they may shed this extreme wing of their party and become more moderate in order to regain control. One can hope at least.
Yeah, this is essentially how I see politics/politicians. Even those going into it with good intentions become jaded and have to play ball or end up losing out. I think there are a lot of parallels to this, probably many/most professions that garner a lot of influence/power- teachers, police, journalists, military, etc. probably attract a lot of people who want to do good, but find that the system (and those already within it) often make doing the right thing needlessly difficult or impossible.
Exactly - politics is no different from many jobs in this aspect. Its always unfortunate when people who want to do good feel that they can't because of various roadblocks they face in the 'system'.
I've seen you mention a few times in this AMA about campaign fiancé reform. From what you have seen or heard, is it pretty much just a bribe? Do you think we actually have a functioning democracy?
We may not have a great democracy but we have a functioning one - the truth is we as citizens could change things if we were united in our aims and if we protested strongly enough. But we don't do that. I genuinely believe if enough people pressured their elected officials to support certain policies, you could effectively sway the power from the hands of the lobbyists to the hands of the people. But individuals are frustrated with our democracy (myself included) - for many legitimate reasons - and usually become apathetic. It is when apathy exists that an elite few can easily take hold over any democracy - and then of course you don't have the appearance of a functioning democracy. So in order to have one, we as citizens have to have a certain level of awareness and willingness to challenge the status quo.
A bribe is for personal use. Campaign donations are for campaign spending (running TV ads, paying staff to get out the vote, sending mailers, and so on). Some proportion of campaign donations do indeed come from special interests and lobbyists and that's a real problem - politicians need to raise money to spend on their campaigns if they hope to stay in office. However, saying that a campaign donation equals a bribe confuses the real issues at stake.
The vast majority of members of congress are not personally corrupt in that they are being paid for their votes with money into their bank accounts. It happens, but it's far more rare and far less damaging the garden variety, day to day distorting influence of money in politics.
I had my feel for it and after 3 years I couldn't imagine myself there anymore. I also worked in a very male-dominated and passive aggressive office and it was starting to get to me...my mental health was probably at an all-time low during that job. And my office had never promoted any woman past a certain position so I knew I had to leave. I work at a non-profit now doing policy and love it - the working environment is a complete 180.
Knew a lady who used to work for Sen Levin, serious "knife in the back" politics was in effect inside the office all the time. Kinda sad, when he was younger he really seemed to want to change things. Is pretty bad when the staffers sabotaged a candidate with their own little dramas.
Oh well, human nature. Guess it really doesn't scale so well at the nation state level. ;)
Yeah true - the staff drama was the key detriment to the job. I really liked my member, their heart was in the right place. But petty office politics drove me and quite a few other good staffers away.
Don't know if you'll get to see this, but if the head of the office was an overall good person, why wasn't the internal issues raised and the bad seeds brought out? I know it can be dodgy so I'm sure it just happened that no one brought it up to them but I'm curious.
My member had a very 'hands off' attitude towards staff disagreements or management issues. He/she did not want to get involved with any office drama or politics and chose to let our chief of staff and legislative director deal with these concerns. The problem was, however, that these two individuals were the main problem in the office, so as you can see it was never going to get resolved. Also members are generally quite close to the chief of staff and legislative director and 'trust' them more than other staff - they are more privy to any secrets the member may have or other information that isn't normally shared with the full staff. They have a closer bond and thats where our member's loyalty was.
No, I don't sadly but there is a lot of support for it with some of the more liberal leaning members of Congress. Overall however, there are just too many conservative members on both sides of the aisle for this to happen so soon. I think we'd first have to have a lot more states passing de-criminalization or legalization and then have years to see the actual results from such laws before federal legislation could ever stand a chance.
There is this great guy on the Hill though - this marijuana cowboy character - who goes from office to office lobbying for legalization with a cowboy hat and a pot t-shirt. He'll probably keep at it if/until it happens.
Do you think removing cannabis from Schedule I would push legalization along? What are the main reasons for members opposing legalization? Reefer Madness? The pharmaceutical industry not wanting the competition?
They've doubled down so many times on the drug war since the 20s-30s, that I don't think they have any idea of how to back things down to sane levels at this point.
My thoughts exactly. Everything has been anti-drugs for decades and now for them to do an about face and legalize marijuana? Not happening. Also don't underestimate how conservative small town America still is - a lot of members would be vilified and booted out if they were to support legalization at this time.
Describe your job in one word.
What was the stupidest thing you overheard there?
Probably when one senator continuously referred to Russia as the USSR or Soviet Union in one meeting. He seemed pretty blatantly unaware that the country hadn't been called that in over two decades.
In your opinion, who is the dumbest member of the House? Personally, I think Gohmert is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Gohmert is pretty intellectually challenged - as is Steve King. It would have to be a tie between those two in my book.
I'm always curious/dumbfounded - how does someone as dumb as Gohmert become a judge? (that's what he did before getting elected to congress)
Well local politics are a whole other can of worms...
I definitely like you.
Aw, why thank you! :)
What are your thoughts on the recent government shutdown? Is congress really as inept as the media is portraying? What is a typical day like? Thanks for doing the AMA!
It was f'n ridiculous but I wasn't at all surprised. They are pretty inept - especially on the House side. It doesn't take much at all to get elected as a member of the House these days and it shows - I was shocked at some of the ignorance I saw on a daily basis. I think gerrymandering is partly to blame - and this whole craze of electing 'joe plumber' with zero experience in government.
Hm, typical day varies - for me, in session, it was getting in around 8 30 am along with other women in the office. The male staffers would show up around 9 15 - 9 30. The kid whose parents contributed to the member's campaign would show up around 10 or 10 30. Our chief of staff, who knows when. Tons of answering calls, listening to constituents vent, calming the crazies, writing letters or legislation, meetings, committee hearings, trying to find the member, trying to get the member to show up to meetings on time, having a heart attack trying to get the member his/her speaking points on time, dealing w/ asshole colleagues, etc. Non-stop craziness until 6 or 7 pm. Eating lunch at your desk if you're lucky.
...Now compare that to when we are out of session - you have next to nothing to do all day. Staffers would go to two hour lunches. Yogurt breaks. Coffee breaks. Anything to fill the time. Summertime is basically a paid vacation for everyone on the Hill.
Sometimes when I get down about my job I like to walk through the tunnels over to the House side and watch the staffers frantically run through the corridors. It reminds me that things could always be worse.
Yes, enjoy the privileged life on the other side of the tunnel. Must be nice.
Do you think that with the recent negative press they are worried about reelection?
Probably. But they are always worried about reelection.
How much of an impact does letter writing and calling our reps actually have? Is it a waste of our time?
A lot of the time it can be - but sometimes, in crucial moments, it does make an important impact, which is why we as constituents should continue to voice our opinions to reps. Calls that come in from constituents right before a vote needs to be made on a bill or amendment are particularly persuasive - if a member is going to vote for a bill but all of a sudden gets a large number of calls from his district telling him not to (and none in support), he is going to perk up & take more consideration on his vote. I would say large, mass letter writing campaigns - where constituents send in the same sample text of a letter with just their name added on - are not effective at all. However, personal and well-thought out letters and phone calls can make a member potentially change his or her opinion and I've seen this firsthand. The member of course does not read letters personally or answer constituent calls, that is the staff - but staffers can and do bring calls or letters to the member's attention if they feel they are important.
How would you work a Political Science Degree being fresh out of college? What should be my first step to get into politics?
I would probably recommend getting your feet wet in politics by becoming involved in a political campaign at the local level first. I don't think there is any better crash course in the political process than campaign work, and unfortunately I did not have that type of experience prior to coming to DC...so it was a bit of a baptism by fire for me to start working on the Hill right away. I think getting involved in a campaign is your best bet for knowing whether or not you truly want to work in politics...and it will give you an edge on other applicants if you do decide to work for a politician.
I saw and spoke to my member every single time they were in the office, so about several times each day, 5 days a week when we were in session. In addition to just seeing them daily, I also spoke with them often when staffing them for briefings and whenever I staffed them for meetings with constituents and/or lobbyists. We also had a weekly meeting with the member and all staff. (Using them here to keep the gender neutral). I can't speak for every Congressional office but ours was fairly informal and it was no big deal to talk to the member. I know in the Senate it is far less frequent to see the member or in some cases even have the member know who you are. I can't imagine working for someone you rarely ever see, but I know it isn't out of the norm.
I interned for a member on the Hill (care to guess which state?) and we saw them whenever they were in the office. The member even knew all of our names, which I thought was impressive. There are some members, like mine and OP's, that get to know their staff very well, and some that rarely ever see them.
Nice! Yes they are certainly members that make the effort and some that don't.
Did you know that most of the under 30 crowd in DC avoids you all at bars like the plague?
Yes and I don't blame them - I avoid staffers too. That was true when I was one and now that I'm not one, even more so.
I'm not from D.C. Why is this?
Staffers have a tendency to talk incessantly about their jobs/the Hill after hours. They're kind of notorious for it. Its like no other topic of conversation ever existed. Not true for all staffers of course but it only takes a handful to give the rest a bad name.
Ah, so they're like lawyers.
You mention crazy political gossip. Care to share any, without mentioning names/parties/districts?
There is one particular Congresswoman that is a monster to her staff. I'm talking calling staff at 2 a.m. in the morning and cursing them out kind of stuff. Throwing things at them. Publicly shaming them. She is especially vicious to female staffers, god knows why. Her staff turnover rate is sky high, not surprising.
There is a former committee chairman that sexually harasses any female staffer he comes into contact with just about. And this isn't some young gun - the man must be in his 70s at least.
I know about a few ongoing affairs between members and staffers, some that you wouldn't expect. At least one that resulted in a child that a member does not acknowledge.
Have you (over)heard any of the congressmen/women privately say things completely contrary to what they say in public? Especially their political or religious beliefs? Especially flip-floppers?
I've definitely been privy to conversations where a member has expressed that he or she actually agreed with a certain policy position but could not publicly admit to it or publicly had to take the opposing position because of their constituents' views. I imagine that happens fairly often.
My dad was involved a lot with the pro life caucus. What is the general opinion on those people among other staffers?
Well there is no general opinion of any caucus among staffers as staffers' political views vary greatly. I know for the staff in our office, which was for a pretty liberal leaning Dem, any member focusing on pro-life policies weren't particularly popular. But I imagine they are pretty revered among conservative staffers.
What do you want to do next?
I have worked in a non-profit doing policy work for about two years now. I would love to go back and school to get a master's - I feel it is necessary to move any further in my career. Most higher-level positions at non-profits, think tanks, etc. require a Master's.
I continued with Master's right away and have been still struggling. I sometimes wonder whether I should work or at least do a solid internship though. I am not from the States but things are pretty same here as well. I have a pol-sci major and you should at least complete a Master's Degree in order to have a job in NGOs etc. However, a related work experience matters as well. Ugh :/ Anyways, I wish you good luck and thanks for answering.
Its hard to know what to do. I definitely feel like I've hit that point that I need a master's or else I can't progress professionally. If you could find an opportunity to intern or work while completing a Master's, that seems like it would be the best situation - then you would graduate with the best of both worlds so to speak.
See answer I gave to a similar question above.
What was the congressional gridlock from your perspective? Was it like a foregone conclusion?
Pretty much - gotta love spending weeks on end working on bills and amendments knowing they would likely never get past committee. Thats just a given in the current situation 99% of the time.
It's hard to imagine the best and the brightest choosing to stay in that environment. Which leaves ...
There's usually an expiration date on any staffers' career. I wouldn't say those that choose to stay aren't the best and brightest, but I can't for the life of me understand why - not in this environment. Some are just very committed to their members and their jobs I suppose.
Oh hey! Thanks for doing an AMA I am actually interested in!
I'm a campaign guy so I'm more interested in what your member did back home to bring in the bacon. If you had to guess, how much $ did your member steer into their district? edit: like per year/cycle...Did you have to do any BRAC stuff?
Any good stories of governance/campaigns intersecting aside from the lobbyists?
There was a lot of money brought back to the district from what I heard and I know our office released press each year about bringing 'millions' back home pre-earmark reform - so I would say it was consistently about that amount but I couldn't give an exact number per year/per cycle as I did not oversee appropriations. Every approps process I know our Legislative Director tried to put any requests in that he could for district projects. And there was definitely BRAC stuff handled but as I didn't work on defense issues I didn't oversee that either. There probably are some good stories but going to bed now - and will try to post any that come to mind tomorrow :)
A. How did you get that job? What sort of qualifications do you need to do that? How important are connections?
B. How do you feel about Macklemore winning over K-Dot?
A. I got the job by interviewing - I was already an intern in another member's office, and I knew another office that we regularly communicated with was hiring a staff assistant (which is an entry-level paid position). I gave their office my resume, had the office I was interning for recommend me for the position, and interviewed then with the office's chief of staff. The next day I was hired. I had no connections whatsoever to the office I was hired as a staff assistant for and that I would then subsequently work at for three years. I did have a connection for my internship. I think connections certainly help you get your foot in the door and oftentimes they are the reason individuals are hired. However, I also think gusto and determination can be equally effective. To work on the Hill, you need a college degree minimum. Some people may have masters or even higher - this is more likely in the Senate or if individuals are working on committees. I have seen people in very high positions who have no more than a B.A. and people in very low positions that have M.A.'s - so it really varies.
B. I may be showing my age by having no earthly idea who K-Dot is.
so if I want to get into this work would it be good to continue interning in my rep's DO for the next couple summers and then try to intern in DC and get a job off that?
K-Dot is Kendrick Lamar, who I, and many others including macklemore, think he deserved the best rap album grammy
Definitely, a lot of staff make the move from the DO to DC. I would continue to intern locally then try to intern in DC. Just being on the Hill will make you more aware of opportunities that arise for paid work. But DC is expensive and its difficult to live here without a paid job, so thats something to consider as well. I also knew a lot of staffers that worked as paid staff in the DO then came to DC. Thats also something to consider.
Got it! Well, I can agree Macklemore is overrated...and also slightly obnoxious.
Favorite item in the Longworth cafeteria?
I'm guessing they changed the color scheme of the badges for the 2nd session of the 113th. I've never seen a peach colored badge. Then again, I haven't set foot on the Hill in a couple of months.
Mines from the 112th - forgot to turn it in when I left! Hm, god, I tried to stick to the salad bar mostly, as the grease from nearly everything else could oftentimes be nausea-inducing. I did like the wraps though. And on rare occasions would treat myself to the BBQ - consistently good. I usually preferred the Rayburn Deli and the 'make your own' whatever at the Rayburn caf though.
Also I saw mice in the Longworth cafeteria on several occasions...so I tried to steer clear when I could. But I guess mice are rampant in all the congressional office bldgs from what I've heard.
It's DC. There are mice EVERYWHERE.
forgot to turn it in when I left!
Please excuse me while I contact Capitol Police, haha.
Gosh, I spent so much time and effort trying to get a staff position on the Hill as a 25 year old intern with a masters. You made it sound much more easier. I kind of wish I did things different, like work on a campaign instead, or not focus so much on trying to get a Hill job.
Won't lie. I actually want to go back. I don't think it's going to happen though.
Ha, I live in fear of being outed. I'm sorry to hear you had a tough time getting a staff position - I think my experience was overwhelmingly a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And I don't think it was by any means the normal experience of getting hired on the Hill - I think the office I interviewed for was desperate for someone to start right away and I fit that bill. I would encourage you to go back and try again if it is what you want - never say never.
Sorry I just realized I mis-read this question. Saw you 'from' as a 'for' - see below regarding earmark reform.
Earmarks were eliminated in Congress, so it's unlikely that your rep has the authority to secure any funding for whatever you have in mind.
Yes, you're correct - sorry. Though 'lettermarking' and 'phonemarking' can still occur.
How did you/your Congressman deal with the press, if there was anything bad that came up? Do members of Congress hate talking to reporters as much as I feel like they do?
Some members abhor talking to the press while others down right revel in it. It really depends on the member. But make no mistake, the ones that you constantly see as guests on Meet the Press, etc. are on there because they want to be - they live for that sh*t. Our member didn't mind talking to the press but also didn't seek it out. We mostly tried to steer the member away from the press, however, as he/she weren't the best public speaker.
How did you get the iob? What is the best advice you can give someone hoping to get into politics/government?
I answered this q above but I was interning already on the Hill and then interviewed in another office for a paid position. The best advice would be to try it out at the local level, preferably in a campaign, to get a solid grounding in politics and then consider working on a larger level. And to develop thick skin, the sooner the better, as there is a lot of ugliness in the political world.
Describe some of the better events you were able to attend if you would! I was an intern for then Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert during election time and the best event I attended was a fundraiser with Tony Snow making an appearance. I don't care what your thoughts are/were on Fox News or him working for Bush, that man was such a good person and I always thought he was so underrated in his abilities to speak frankly and have the desire to appeal to both sides, even if he was just the Press Secretary.
I try not to judge people based on their political affiliation as I find people can often surprise you. And I went to loads of good events - one of the few good perks of being a staffer. I was able to go to the WH a few times - I saw the president land in Marine one as I stood a few dozen feet away; I got to tour the west wing and see the oval office - those were both pretty extraordinary experiences. Event wise, a lot of really good receptions...met VP Biden, Geena Davis, Gael Garcia Bernal, a few other famous names at some I've attended. Sadly nothing as fancy since I've left the Hill and become a lowly non-profit worker!
Appreciate the reply! My degree in political science led me to working in logistics for the DoD. Damn liberal arts degrees. Best of luck to ya, Cece.
Ha, of course. Same to you!
you're probably not going to see this reply, but I hope you had a good experience with Gael, he is friends with a close friend and he is really chill.
Yes, he was absolutely wonderful - he was on the Hill discussing a documentary he did about individuals making the journey through Mexico and facing various hardships in their quests to immigrate to the U.S. He came across as intelligent, empathetic and humble.
What's the most bizzare thing you've un-intentionally overheard as a staffer?
If you want to hear some really bizarre things, I recommend shadowing interns when they give constituents tours of the Capitol - so many well-embellished 'facts' about the Capitol's history, it's pretty priceless.
As far as something I've un-intentionally overheard, I definitely overheard a fight between a member and a staffer where the member screamed and threw her phone at said staffer. They were at one side of a hallway and I was at the other. They didn't see me and I didn't intervene as I was just completely gob-smacked by it.
Ha ha! I was an intern for a congress person and had to give a few tours. Trying to find the spot in the Rotunda where the whispering gallery thing is was a nightmare. Also told someone the amount of congressmen change dependent on population swell as i had no idea how many there were at the time. To be fair, i am from Scotland though (people did think it was a bit weird that a Brit was giving them a tour of their nations seat of power). We may have lost the War of Independence but i definitely did my part in terms of very minor subversion!
Subtle sabotage from the inside - I like it. And you have the excuse of being a foreigner...we Americans should really be more acquainted with our gvt and its history.
Did you go to highschool in Florida?
Hey thanks for the AMA! Quick question. Do you think something like a twitter sit-in has any chance of reaching members of congress? Or do they not even check/ care about their twitter accounts at all?
Sure! Hm, interesting question. While I highly doubt many members personally handle their own twitter accounts (though I could be wrong on that), I would have to think they would care if they were being bombarded with tweets from their constituents on a particular issue. The staff would notice and then relay to the member. This could be an effective way of raising attention around a certain issue - although our member was just beginning to have a twitter presence when I left the office, so my experience dealing with that medium as a staffer in a Congressional office is limited. I would have to thing they would care if they were being tweeted a large number of times if those messages were coming from their constituency - if they were coming from random people outside of the member's constituency, it is less likely it would make an impact.
Cool, Thanks for the response! I agree that it is more likely that respond to their constituency, but my hopes are that if you get enough national attention behind a civic protest like this they will have to respond regardless.
Anyways I guess there is no way to really tell, unless someone tries. Have you ever heard of anyone trying something like this?
I haven't but I imagine someone out there has done something in this realm before. And agree that you don't really know unless you try - and I think its definitely worth a try.
I don't have much to add other than I've worked in the city council of one of the most notorious cities in the United States. I don't know how you did it. All the other staffers were low paid and would knife you in the back in a minute. I can't even imagine what Congress is like.
I was a polisci major and I'm getting a poli comm masters but at this point I hope to work with a non profit or for profit organization that works to advocate infrastructure spending or economic development. Work DIRECTLY in a legislative body? never again! ;)
I don't know how I did it either. It was pretty harrowing some days and the pay was not high enough to justify the intensity of the job. However, I am grateful for the learning experience, and it certainly made me a lot tougher in the long-run. So there's that.
Agree! I work in a non-profit now and can't even dream of going back to legislative work....don't miss it one tiny bit. Once you're done, you're done I guess.
Sidenote - was it Chicago where you worked?
I am a Wildlife Biology major looking to start working in government or nonprofit. My predicament is that I am very qualified for entry level research jobs, but my natural skills and inclinations lead me toward policy and advocacy. I'm exploring options in local government, but I don't really know what I should be trying for in terms of getting my foot in the door. Advice or opinions on both public and private sector?
I saw you sent me a PM - I'll respond.
Sure, will do so as soon as possible.
I see I'm late to the game, but just in case you happen to see this:
Why are people so enamored with working on the Hill? How would you explain the allure? I see one guy in this thread said he tried desperately to become a staffer, but I don't understand why; the pay is abysmal, hours seem shitty, and the job itself seems pretty thankless.
Thank you for doing this AmA. I don't have much an interest in politics because I've grown callous and jaded, but my boyfriend used to live in DC, and he always speaks of "the Hill" and the city with such a sense of luster and longing. I don't understand it at all.
Yes, I think it is like any job associated with power - there is always going to be intrigue and interest in the field of politics. People have this perceived idea of what Congress is like and don't take into account some of the realities that are less than pleasant that you pointed out - the pay, hours and the thankless work. It is not a dream job but certainly one where you can learn a lot in a short period of time if you are willing to put in the work. And I can understand those who have not worked in DC to regard it in such a way, but for me after 5+ years here I can't see myself looking back with luster and longing at my days here. Maybe he genuinely had a great experience in DC, though.
Yes, quite a few but also a lot of positive experiences. Like any job it has its moments. My member was fortunately very nice to staff so there was never any time I felt disrespected by him/her. On the other hand, our chief of staff and other high level staff could be very insensitive, condescending and back-stabbing at times. There were quite a few meetings where I had to sit complacently while another staffer took complete credit for my work. And working on the Hill in general can be unpleasant some days just because of the type of people that work there - they can oftentimes be brash, rude, arrogant or self-obsessed. But plenty of upsides and don't regret working there at all - you have to take the bad with the good.
Hey, my sister was also an intern staffer! She did not like it very much because people were kind of mean to each other.
Yes unfortunately there can be some nasty people on the Hill - it is probably partly the high stress environment that brings out the worst in people and also partly the type of people that are attracted to that particular line of work in the first place
what is your favorite color?
because congressmen are people too!
Green (because of my love of nature, not $)
The house strikes me as a collection of the nation's biggest hicks. Am I on target with that?
Ha, well kind of...there's quite a few no doubt and they seem to be multiplying. The house likes to keep it real - they're the peoples' people. So the bigger the hick, the better, or at least thats how it appears to work these days.
Are staffers for tea party members as inept and misinformed as their bosses are?
Any good stories about this new "class" of politicians?
I've definitely come across a few that have startled me with their ineptitude...i.e. despite working in the legislative branch they were still ignorant of how the whole 'legislative process' thing works. Something most of us got a handle on during our earlier years thanks to Schoolhouse Rock, how a bill becomes law, etc. And I regularly ran into one tea party staffer in particular that seemed to be intoxicated all the time - but perhaps she was just insane. In all fairness though, there are lots of inept and misinformed staffers so probably not fair to single out the tea party ones - although they can be quite special.
Hm, I had an intern yell 'you lie' to Rep. Joe Wilson when he saw him across the hall in an elevator once - lucky for him the elevator doors closed after he did so and he got away scotch free with that one. The most interesting thing concerning the tea party that I witnessed was the TP march on washington in 2009. I've never seen anything like it since - completely surreal. These people were the craziest s.o.b.'s to ever swarm the halls of the Congressional office buildings (and thats saying something) - to look out your office window and see hundreds of them lined up outside shouting at you and holding their absurd signs and waiving their tiny american flags was something else. I greeted some into our office that came straight in, looked at a painting we had on the wall and remarked 'hm, thats a scary painting' - it was a self-portrait that an African-American student/constituent did for the Congressional art fair. I guess to them a black male was something they defined as scary. Classy.
Thanks for the response! I worked as an L.A. for a Republican rep in the Florida house for a little bit, I have a lot of stories, but what I remember most was that in my first week I asked for clarification about an email from the party that was concerning a contentious policy position. I was immediately called out by another aide for being a liberal because I didn't understand the logic. I never made that mistake again as became aware of the unspoken rule that you don't question authority in the Republican party...unless its scientific or nerdy
Of course - never question! That happens on both sides of the aisle I'm afraid.
Well fortunately I never had to push policies that I did not support. And I genuinely believe that every piece of legislation or amendment I was in charge of would have benefited the public. So its pretty easy.
They really aren't all criminals. There's a few good apples. And a lot can be done by the staff without the involvement of the member.
Do you (still?) believe in the integrity of the democratic process?
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