Thursday, July 23, 2009

Proud to be an American

Fourth of July in DC is always an exciting experience (except dealing with the masses of tourists who converge on the city). You've got the excitement of being in the capital on America's birthday, you have the parades, and, most importantly, you have the fireworks. What could be bad about that?

This year's Fourth was fantastic. I spend most of the day hanging out on the National Mall holding down a spot for our group to watch the fireworks. It was a perfect day: warm with no humidity and clear blue skies. Could not have asked for anything better. A group of us got there at around 3 (for the fireworks that began at 9:10) and passed the six hours by throwing frisbees, napping, playing games, and cuddling (at least Ben and I did...). By the time the fireworks started we had a pretty big group. We had a perfect spot: in front of the Washington Monument looking straight at the Lincoln Memorial with the White House directly to our right and the Jefferson Memorial directly to our left. So good. There was also a concert going on; they were playing the usual patriot music. I might have sung "God Bless the USA" at the top of my lungs... Good times. I was feeling tres patriotic. The fireworks were AMAZING. From where we were it felt like they were falling on us, which was great. Again, nothing like having this experience in DC. Per PSIP tradition, when the fireworks ended our group broke out in a chorus of "The Victors."

Here are some pics from the day:

Benny and I claiming our spot

Our PSIP crew

Great view of the Washington at night.

Happy birthday, America!
Brady came to town the next day. We got crabcakes, ice cream and went to see the monuments at night. It was cute.

I had a pretty exciting week at work. It was full of hearings, briefings and free food. The hearing of the week was a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the BCS. Yes, Congress was investigating college football... Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called the hearing, which, for those of you who follow college football, makes sense (Utah was the only school to finish undefeated this past season, but they weren't able to play for the national championship). I got to the 2:30 hearing at 2:10 and there was a massive line going out the door. It was like every intern on the Hill decided to go to this hearing. I didn't get in until about 3:15, but it was worth it! Really interesting discussion between the panel of witnesses (two college presidents and two lawyers) and Sen. Hatch (these hearings usually have three or four Senators, but only Hatch was at this wasn't worth anyone else's time). In the end, nothing will happen because no one thinks this is important or that anything productive can come out of these hearings. Fun story, when I finally got a seat it was behind one of the witnesses. It took me a few minutes to realize that there was a camera pointed right in my direction and whenever the camera was pointed at this witness, it got me in the shot. I realized this after I had spend the first twenty minutes looking down at my notepad. Oops.

Other fun stories from the week: On Wednesday, AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobby in the nation, had a huge event featuring Sens. John McCain and Bob Menendez. It was really cool to hear them (especially McCain) speak in person. McCain was really laid back and his speech was hilarious. We stood close to the door, so we were able to shake their hands as they walked in and out. We got a picture with Menendez as he left:

On Thursday I was in the underground tunnel getting from the House-side to the Senate-side of the Capitol. I happened to go through the Senate tunnel in the middle of a vote, so Senators were rushing past me left and right. It was like being in a candy shop. As I got to the elevators to go the my briefing on the ninth floor I saw someone familiar...newly sworn-in Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota. For those of you who don't know, the Minnesota Senate election between Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken (of the SNL fame) occurred in November, but the election was so close that recounts dragged the election until June. I worked for Coleman's campaign while at the NRSC last summer. Needless to say, this election meant a lot to me, making this run-in very awkward. Probably my most awkward encounter with a Senator. Here's how it went down:

Me - "Hey Senator Franken. Congrats on getting your seat."
Senator Franken - "Thank you.." (begins awkwardly leaning in and staring at me)
Me - "Uh...I'm an intern...I'm on my way to a briefing on the ninth floor..."
Franken - "Oh..." (continues to awkwardly stare at me, as if he's waiting to say something or for me to say something)
Me - "Yeah I won't lie, I worked for the coleman campaign...but congrats anyways."
Franken - "Oh, that's ok" (gets on elevator as I run to the farthest one away)

So telling a Senator you worked for his opponent's campaign probably isn't the best thing to say. I was clearly off my game...I blame the awkward stares. Of course I think of something better to say after I make a complete fool of myself. I could have said something like "Love your work on SNL!" but of course, I can't think of that on my feet. I was off my game. Sigh. Oh well.

An adventurous week wrapped up with an adventurous weekend. On Saturday we played a softball game against the U of M Alumni Softball team. This is a team that plays against other university alumni teams in a highly competitive league. We...are a bunch of interns who don't really practice or take our games seriously. I'm sure you can imagine how this game turned out. It was fun though. We managed to hold a lead for a few innings before things unraveled. On Sunday we took a trip to the Newseum, my favorite museum in DC. I could spend hours at this museum, and I did. I wasn't able to finish it, which was sad. I had a good time none the less.

The next week was just as fun. Work was about the same: hearings, briefings, free food. Can't complain. A group of us decided to catch the midnight premiere of Harry Potter on Tuesday night. It was great. I love midnight movies; they're so exciting. We got to the theatre at around 10:45 and the line stretched around the entire block. It was crazy. I loved the movie and I wish I could be Harry Potter. The best part was getting done at 3am and having to go to work the next morning! Phil, one of my bosses, told me I could come in late on Wednesday, so I didn't feel so bad. It was only going to be the two of us because the other three people in our office were out for the day. Making things better, I get a call at 10:30 Wednesday morning and Phil says that I don't need to come in if I don't want to! As tempting as it was, I still had some work to do, so I decided to come in at noon to make it a true half day. So good.

The Sotomayor hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee were going on during the week. This was a big deal around the city, not surprisingly. Literally every office had their TV turned to this. This hearings can be painful to watch at times because each Senator LOVES the attention they're getting by being there. The first day alone each Senator got ten minutes to give an opening statement, during which they pretty much stroke their egos and seize the limelight. There are nineteen Senators on the committee, so you can figure out how long this went. I felt bad for Sotomayor because it must be so painful to have to sit through those statements. I wouldn't have been able to stay awake past the third. I'm not sure if it's more painful to sit through those statements or answer the questions she got for the next three days.
The hearings lasted until Thursday. The general public was allowed to attend, but there was a massive line. They bring you in groups of 25 and you can only stay for 20 minutes. Seems efficient, but there are tons of people who want to go. I tried going on Monday, but I would have had to wait for awhile. I assumed that by Thursday, the final day of the hearings, things would die down. I was right. I got in line at around 9:50 and got into the hearings by 10:20. It was really cool to be there. Granted, I was seated in the far back corner of the room and couldn't see jack, but it was a surreal experience to actually see a Supreme Court nomination hearing.

Juwong came in that weekend, so Ben and I spent the weekend taking him to see all the cool sites. On Saturday we went to the Capitol, Union Station, Portrait Gallery/Museum of American Art, monuments at night and Ben's Chili Bowl. When we did our monuments tour we went to the Lincoln, Korean War, World War II, Washington Monument, then Jefferson. As we were walking to the Jefferson we noticed that the lights were out. By the time we got there a security guard was standing in front of it telling us we couldn't go in because of the light problem. For those who don't know, walking to the Jefferson Memorial is a bit of a trek, as you have to walk around the Tidal Basin. We decided to wait a few minutes, mainly because we wanted to make the best of our long walk. After a few minutes of moping, the lights went back on and we were happy. I take full credit for that. It was an exciting night and a fun weekend.

More updates will come soon...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Such Great Heights

A lot has happened since I last updated, so here we go!

Thursday the 18th was the Thursday before the first day of summer. The Senate has a tradition where members wear seersucker on that day, also known as Seersucker Thursday (read one of my posts from last year for more info). After reading my post about this last summer, my sister gave me a gift card to buy my own pair of seersucker pants. Naturally, I pulled them out to take part in this year's day. I made sure that all my meetings that day were on the Senate side so I could blend in with the Senators and their staffs. It paid off. I was at the Small Business Committee hearing and a number of staff commented on my seersucker and a number of people in the audience were decked out in full seersucker suits. When the Senators walked in, two of my favorites, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Roger Wicker, were in their seersucker attire. After the hearing, I ran into Wicker and we both complimented each other on our look. On an aside, I also had a nice chat with Sen. John Thune after the hearing and we talked about his prospects for becoming Republican Policy Committee Chairman. Nice chat and a nice guy.

That day was also the day where the Dairy farmers' lobby had their annual Ice Cream party. They rent out a park across from the Russell Senate Office Building and hand out hundreds of bowls of ice cream and root beer floats. I grabbed two bowls of ice cream (coffee and mint chocolate chip) and a root beer float. SO GOOD! Who says all lobbyists are bad?

Here are some pics:

What I ended up taking

Lest they mingle with the rest of us. I'm sure their ice cream was better.

It was also cool because a number of members of Congress were there grabbing free ice cream for themselves (and to talk to the lobbyists). Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who was wearing a seersucker suit, complimented my seersucker on our way in. I also had a quick chat with Sen. Daniel Akaka as he was leaving.

The next week was another exciting week of meeting Senators. On Monday I volunteered to work at a fundraiser for Florida Governor Charlie Christ, who is running for the Senate. It was at my old abode, the NRSC. It was a really cool event because nearly all of the GOP Senators showed up to show their support. As I was helping the bartender, I was able to chat with Sens. Kit Bond, Johnny Isakson (again), Saxby Chambliss, Richard Burr and John Barrasso. Later on, the bartender let me go mingle, so I chatted it up with Bob Bennett, Sam Brownback and shook hands with Jim Risch, Lindsay Graham, and John McCain. I also fist bumped Orrin Hatch, who did something to his wrist so couldn't shake hands. I also had another good chat with John Thune, who remembered our chat from the week before, which was cool. As we were talking about his undergrad years (he went to a school where my sis almost went for grad school), Lindsay Graham walked up to us and fist bumped Sen. Thune, who introduced me to the Senator (who then fist bumped me).

Charlie Crist, the man who all this was for, is probably the nicest politician I've ever met. He came up to me three times (which I'm sure meant that he forgot that he had already talked to me), addressed me by name (I was wearing a nametag), and thanked me profusely for helping out kept shaking my hand. The last time, he grabbed me, motioned his cameraman over and was like "let's get a picture!" Really cool and really down to earth...hope he wins.

On Tuesday our group had our annual Q&A with Sen. Carl Levin, which is always a good time. I ran into him about 30 minutes before the event, as I was looking for the room, and he sounded pretty excited (though he was pretty disheveled as he was running late for a hearing that he needed to chair). He got to our event late, but it was a good time none the less. He's an interesting guy and always has some good stories to tell. It took him about ten minutes to answer the question, "What did you do today?" which I thought was funny. He ended up going on a tangent about filibusters. He spent about 45 minutes with us and took a picture with our group at the end. You could tell that he was having a great time. Really cool old man. Here are some pics:

The next day I had to go to some hearings for work. I had some time between the two that I needed to attend, so I decided to check out the the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was having a roundtable to to discuss the events in Iran. When I got to the hearing room, there was a huge line heading out the door. I didn't think I'd get a seat. By the time I actually got into the room, I saw my friend Whitney, who was my PSIP Coordinator last year and is now working for Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. She was on loan to the committee and actually put the whole hearing together. She was at the front of the room and when she saw me in the back, she started motioning her head for me to go up to her. When I got to the front of the room, she let me sit with her and her interns in the front row! It was really cool because we were really close to the panel. The hearing itself was fascinating as all the panelists were experts on Iran so they had some really interesting insights on what was going on. It was also untraditional because Sen. Kerry wanted it to be an informal discussion, so rather than going through the formalities of normal hearings, it was an open forum where questions could be freely asked by Senators and the panelists could actually discuss and converse with each other. It was really cool.

After the Foreign Relations hearing, I went to a subcommittee hearing for Appropriations. The hearing was on appropriations for Commerce, Justice and Science, which is important to the University because we need to know how much funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, will receive as we rely on these agencies for research funding. A lot of people attend these hearings because they want to know how much funding their agencies will receive, so they always advise arriving about 20-30 minutes ahead of time. I got there 30 minutes before the hearing, barely got a seat, and sat through the ten minute hearing. Great, eh? On my way out I had a quick chat with Sen. Bryon Dorgan of North Dakota. He was really interested in what I was doing and I complimented him on his interview on the Colbert Report a few weeks ago. I also had a chat on the elevator with Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. We commented on how efficient the hearing was. By the end of the day I also had brief chats with Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, both Democrats from Maryland and Judd Gregg, who appreciated my compliments for his health plan (again).

Friday was a big day because the House of Representatives was set to vote on their cap-and-trade bill (a bill on climate change, for you non-politicos). The debate lasted through the day, past my work hours. I had gone to Jazz in the Gardens, which is a weekly jazz concert in the Scuplture Garden of the National Gallery of Art, when a friend texted me saying that Republican leader John Boehner was "filibustering" the bill by reading through a 300 page amendment. Since something like this NEVER happens in the House, a bunch of us decided to head over to see if we could watch this. By the time we got to the Capitol, through security and into the gallery, he was done. That was sad, but the vote had already begun. To pass a bill in the House you need 218 votes. All day the Democrats had been fighting to get votes because a number of their members couldn't vote on the bill because of their districts. We were watching the vote count tick up, then with about 20 seconds left in the 15 minute vote, the entire Democrat side of the chamber broke out in cheers as they got vote 218. It was so crazy to watch. They ended up barely passing the bill with 219 votes.

This past week was recess week; Congress went home to celebrate Independence Day. This means that all work in DC comes to a halt. Work slowed down dramatically as I had very little to do, which was sad. On Tuesday, however, I arranged for PSIP to get a tour of the CIA! It was really cool, especially since they only accept like 1/10 of their tour requests. I pulled some strings. Just getting there was pretty crazy. We had to go through background checks and intense security and we couldn't bring cameras or our phones. The tour consisted of the history of the agency, a tour of their museum (which was pretty much an exhibit of spy equipment from other countries), and a recruitment session. It was pretty surreal just to be in the main lobby. We saw the stars of the fallen, the insignia on the was sick. Our tour guide was pretty good, though there were a lot of questions that she said she couldn't answer because they were "classified." It was interesting being in the building because we'd walk past rooms with signs like "Iran Sector" and "Middle East" and undercover agents were walking around us the entire time. Making things more interesting was that we had two security officers trailing us the entire time, so we couldn't go anywhere without being watched. The recruitment session was pretty intense; they tried pretty hard to get us to work for them. Fun fact: you can apply to work at the CIA if you haven't used drugs in over a year, but if you download music, you might want to reconsider. Overall it was a pretty sweet experience.

I had half-days at work for the next two days and Friday off...horray for recess! I took Friday to hang out and play softball with the crew. That night a few of us went to Ben's Chili Bowl with our old coordinator Neil, who was in town. As we were sitting at the table, a group walked in and sat at the table in front of us. One guy at the table looked really familiar to me. He looked like Reiham Salam, the co-author of a book I read earlier in the year, Grand New Party. I saw him on a news segment earlier in the summer talking about his book and the future of the Republican party. I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out if this was the guy, doing the whole mental, "he might be...". I turned to Neil, who suggested I look at our friend Jeff's Blackberry to make sure. Horray for mobile internet! I checked his Wikipedia page, which had a picture, and started subtly comparing the pic with the guy sitting in front of us. We all agreed it was the same guy, so I walked up to him and asked if he was Reiham. He was! We had a quick chat; I told him I really enjoyed his work and he asked about what I was doing, where I go to school and told me to keep in touch. Really cool guy. I was pretty excited at the end, not going to lie.

Anyways, that's the story of what's been going on. Yesterday was Independence Day. I'll have a post up about that soon!