More interns than ever working for pay on the Hill this summer
Internships on Capitol Hill have long been viewed as the province of the rich, or at least those who could afford to spend a semester or summer without getting paid. A nonprofit civic education group took the lead in changing that with a paid internship program started three years ago, and this summer Congress itself is doing more to pay for its collegiate help than ever before.
Paying more interns is seen as a small but serious step toward improving how Congress functions, because there's a strong expectation the place will work better if it's staffed by a more economically as well as ethnically broad-based group of people.
College to Congress aims to bring more diversity to the intern pool by giving low-income students opportunities to work for members of both parties. The 18 students chosen for this summer have all their expenses related to housing, travel, food and professional clothing paid for—more than $26,000 each.
The new investment by the taxpayers is not as generous. Last fall Congress agreed to spend $14 million on paid internships. Each House member has been given $20,000 for that purpose. Senate funding differs depending on the size of each senator's state, but the average allotment is closer to $50,000.
The money will guarantee a boost in young people who can get by on the Hill for a few months without trolling receptions for free food or hoping their parents will come through with some help. Two years ago, only 8 percent of House Republicans and 4 percent of House Democrats paid their interns, the advocacy group Pay Our Interns estimates. In the Senate, it was 51 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of Democrats.
The same report pegged at $6,000 the average cost for someone to live and work in Washington during an internship.
These are the College to Congress interns and their placements:
- Ana Aldazabal of La Habra, Calif. and California State University at Fullerton is with Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif.
- Onyx Brunner of Chicago and Yale is with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
- Joshua Cardenas of San Francisco and Wesleyan is with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
- Abigail Christopher of Brick, N.J. and University of Delaware is with the GOP staff of the Education and Labor Committee.
- MyChale Cooper of Tuscaloosa, Ala. and University of Alabama is with Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala.
- Kendall Criswell of Tuscaloosa, Ala. and University of Montevallo is with Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y.
- Matthew Garza of Weslaco, Texas and Colby College is with Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del.
- Bridger Jimenez of Long Beach, Calif. and California State University at Dominguez Hills is with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
- Jalen Johnson of Albany, Ga. and University of West Georgia is with Sen. Sonny Perdue, R-Ga.
- Alyssa Kurke of Glassboro, N.J. and American University is with Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H.
- Reecha Patel of Bartonville, Pa. and Lehigh University is with Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa.
- Khymaya Perkins of Detroit and Dartmouth is with the House Democratic Caucus.
- Madison Piel of Marlborough, Conn. and Assumption College is with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark.
- Marissa Reyes of Prosser, Wash. and Barnard College is with the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative.
- Ryan Schiesser of Franklin Furnace, Ohio and Shawnee State University is with the GOP staff of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
- Tyler Swartzell of Fargo, N.D. and The College of William & Mary is with Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
- Jasmine Teeny of Troutdale, Ore. and Biola University is with the GOP staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
- Justin Walker of Lexington, S.C. and University of South Carolina is with Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa.
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Stacey Abrams, who gained national attention during her failed 2018 bid for the Georgia governorship, is urging Congress to restore federal oversight of elections in some states.
Had she won the extremely close contest, Abrams would now be the first black female governor in America. She and her fellow Democrats maintain the election was not fairly conducted in part because her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, was secretary of state – and therefore Georgia's top elections official – at the time.
Abrams was the most prominent witness Tuesday at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on civil rights and elections in the six years since the Supreme Court eviscerated the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the part of the law requiring advance federal approval before any changes in voting laws or practices in parts of country with a history of voter discrimination. All of Georgia had been subjected to this so-called preclearance requirement, which the court ruled is now unconstitutionally outdated.
Calling for Congress to come up with a new system for preclearance that could withstand another such challenge, Abrams said that jurisdictions formerly covered by the law "have raced to reinstate or create new hurdles to voter registration, access to the ballot box, and ballot counting."
Abrams said a voter registration group she created in Georgia, which was active in her 2018 race, submitted thousands of forms to Kemp's office and soon discovered "artificial delays" in processing those registrations. The state's requirement that names on registrations exactly match records of other government agencies sidetracked thousands more.
Both practices had a greater impact on black citizens, she said, because they are more likely to register through third-party groups like the one she founded, Fair Fight Action.
And both, she said, would have been stopped in advance under preclearance.
Abrams also charged that Kemp improperly purged names from the voter rolls.
"By denying the real and present danger posed by those who see voters of color as a threat to be neutralized rather than as fellow citizens to be engaged," Abrams said, the six-year-old Supreme Court ruling "has destabilized the whole of our democratic experiment."
After the election, Abrams created Fair Fight Action to combat the tactics used against her. It has also sued the Georgia secretary of state and is asking the federal courts to revive preclearance for any election law changes in her state.
House Democratic leaders have written legislation creating a new set of rules for the Justice Department to use in determining which states must get such preclearance, and it has more than enough sponsors to pass. But the bill would almost certainly be shelved by the Republicans in charge in the Senate.
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The National Institute for Civil Discourse has a message for the 20 Democratic presidential candidates who will participate in debates on Wednesday and Thursday nights: Remember first grade.
In other words, don't poke your neighbor, wait your turn, and if you can't say something nice, don't say anything.
Seriously, the institute, which studies and promotes civility in political debate is reminding candidates of standards it developed in 2015 in advance of the last presidential election season.
They say that politicians living up to basic standards of civility, especially when they're on national television, is essential if the angry tribal nature of America discourse is ever going to ease. "Zingers and insults might get headlines, but it's leading to a culture of candidates who stand out by throwing punches and amplifying the polarization of our politics," said Keith Allred, the institute's executive director.
The guidelines for the candidates are:
- Be respectful of others in speech and behavior.
- Answer the question being asked by the moderator.
- Make ideas and feelings known without disrespecting others.
- Take responsibility for past and present behavior, speech and actions.
- Stand against incivility when faced with it.
The institute also developed guidelines for the moderators of the debates. (NBC and MSNBC are providing the ones for these debates.) They are:
- Address uncivil behavior by naming it and moderating the conversation to move toward more respectful dialogue.
- Enforce debate rules equally.
- Hold candidates accountable by challenging each candidate to speak the truth and act with integrity.
- Treat all candidates equally in regard to the complexity of questions and debate rules.
- Be respectful when interacting with candidates.
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