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Interns work Capitol

Nicole Michels | Monday, September 3, 2012

Several Notre Dame students traded the golden dome for the Capitol dome to intern in Congressional offices over the summer, while others worked in district offices throughout the country.

The Washington Post reported between 20,000 and 40,000 interns descended on Washington, D.C., during the summer months. The 535 Congressmen hire sets of interns to contribute to daily office operations, ranging from a single intern to as many as 15 in their D.C. offices, with similarly sized staffs in district offices.

Senior political science major Alex Bowman was one of the interns in the D.C. office of Rep. Joe Donnelly, where he said he worked on both substantive and clerical tasks. 

“My daily tasks included answering phones, checking voicemail messages, sorting emails, leading tours around the Capitol building and doing independent research for some of the more specific constituent requests. … Generally, [the interns] just did what needs to be done,” Bowman said.

Bowman said the tasks assigned to the interns each presented unique challenges.

“It was nerve-wracking. … In all honesty when you pick up the phone as a Congressional intern, you are the vocal representative of your boss, the member of Congress,” Bowman said. “You have to keep in mind that every word that you say the constituent will construe to be his, which is a scary thought.”

Donnelly’s participation in the contest for the Indiana Senate seat prompted a greater number of calls from constituents, Bowman said.

“People call all the time about the election, and because Joe is moving from a district to a statewide office, he gets people from all over the state asking questions,” Bowman said.

Sophomore political science major Colin O’Shea interned in Sen. Richard Durbin’s Chicago office with the press team, where reading the morning paper was part of his job each day.
“Every morning, I would read The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun Times and state papers looking for any news relevant to [Durbin] or any news that mentioned his name,” O’Shea said. “I’d send on a list of the news clips to the press secretary in Illinois, who forwarded it to the D.C. office.”

O’Shea said he also helped to plan Durbin’s press conferences when the senator returned to Chicago.

“I would call the reporters and tell them about the conferences, distribute the media releases and tape the actual conferences for the website,” O’Shea said. 

The primary difference between the state office and the D.C. office is that Chicago handles constituent casework while D.C. handles policy issues, O’Shea said.

“We have caseworkers that handle all the constituency-based things, trouble with a utility or government agency, something service-based,” O’Shea said. “Anything policy related would be directed to the D.C. office.”

O’Shea said he appreciated the chance to gain insight into the life of one of his elected officials.  

“It humbles you, to realize that even the senator can’t do everything that he wants to do,” O’Shea said. “The senator legitimately tries his best to serve the constituents and make people happy, but none of them are perfect and it’s hard to make everyone happy.”

Sophomore political science and peace studies major Pat Roemer interned for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this past summer, who he said has a personal appreciation for Notre Dame. 

“When I walked into the room to say hello to the leader, the first thing she asked me was where I go to school,” Roemer said. “When I said that I go to Notre Dame, she said, ‘Oh I love Father Ted Hesburgh. He’s a great man.'”

Roemer said he appreciated opportunities during his internship to hear different viewpoints on the major issues, particularly foreign affairs.

“I attended primarily hearings at the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,” Roemer said. “But I also was able to go outside the Capitol to get some more biased viewpoints, which was certainly different. … The hearings can be biased and partisan, but off the hill they have agendas that they want to promote.”

His daily tasks ranged widely depending on whether or not the House was in session, Roemer said.

“Some days when the house wouldn’t be in session, I’d be running trying to find a stapler, but other days I’d be running to drop off something on the [House] floor, running to Fed-Ex down the street, researching specific pieces of legislation, depending on what’s going on,” Roemer said. 

Roemer said his time on the Hill has infected him with a desire to return to the fast-paced world of politics.

“I definitely want to be up on the hill, whether it’s after graduation, running for office or just holding doors for the people who walk into the House and Senate galleries,” Roemer said. “I’ve got the disease. It’s a sickness, this Washington thing. I want to be there.”