Saturday, June 18, 2016By:
Periodically. Which is why I'll limit myself to only one per week as I use them for the titles of my blog posts!
Welcome to week two! It’s been a busy one that almost has me feeling settled into a routine for the summer. My committee (and really all of Congress) has been busy trying to make final pushes for legislation before July hits and Congress goes out of session until September. Which means until about July 15th things are going to be crazy on the Hill. The most exciting news that came out of my health subcommittee this week was the unanimous passing of a landmark bipartisan mental health reform bill on Wednesday. I was present for most of the intermediate steps leading up to the final full subcommittee where the bill was passed. Getting to see a lot of the process along the way made seeing the final result a lot sweeter with my background knowledge of how much work went into everything!
On a day-to-day basis, I mostly attend meetings or briefings on behalf of my Committee or out of my own interest. This week I attended sessions on topics such as methane emissions, combatting “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics, the national trauma care system, and deep space exploration. In addition to those meetings, I also got two really neat opportunities directly involving Congressmen themselves! At a summer intern lecture series, I was able to meet and ask a question of Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina after he spoke to a group of interns about his own personal journey to the Hill. Rep. Walker was a former minister who spoke about the call he felt to jump into politics and bring a tone of love to the political scene that he saw as being full of tension and hatred. As a person with a non-traditional background he also spoke about his experience fighting against the established politicians to prove his worth and how he revolved his campaign around personal relationships with his community. I personally was able to ask him a question on the value he believed people with such non-traditional backgrounds bring to politics, a topic near and dear to my heart as somebody trained in science but interested in politics. His answer touched on the importance of bringing a freshness to the political process that can allow change to be made in areas that more traditional political figures might overlook. One of the most interesting moments of the address, however, came when a member of the audience asked about his stance on the Orlando shooting that had occurred the day before. As both a former minister very connected to his community and a representative of the people there, Rep. Walker spoke about how important it was for him to return home and attend his North Carolina community’s vigil. He briefly mentioned that he received some criticism for being a strong Conservative voter attending the LGBTQ community’s vigil but that he saw it as an obligation to stand with members of his community in their time of need and not as a political move. Of course Congress has been a source of increased scrutiny this past week after the Orlando shooting in light of events such as the presidential candidates’ responses and the 15 hour filibuster held by Senator Murphy of Connecticut to encourage bipartisan dialogue on gun control measures. I also don’t plan to go into the different political debates and emotions that have been stirred up in light of these events in this blog, but I did want to mention the idea Representative Walker had brought up because I think moving beyond political association in order to grieve the loss of life is the most important step to addressing all the concerns wrapped up in incidences like this one in Orlando that have been occurring within our country the past few years.
The second experience with Congressmen I had this week was when I had the opportunity to meet my two senators! Every Tuesday morning, the staff members of Senator Bob Corker and Senator Lamar Alexander get together to hold a constituent breakfast called “Tennessee Tuesday”. On weeks when Congress is in session and the Senators’ schedules allows for it, the two men come to the end of the breakfast for a meet and greet photo session. So after grabbing a bagel and practicing my skills of sliding up to random conversations and introducing myself, I hopped in line to take a photo. I said my name, shook both of their hands, smiled for a picture, and put my address on an envelope so they can send it to my house in Tennessee. I think opportunities like this one that put elected officials into direct contact with their constituents to just say hi and not discuss issues are very important at popping the bubble that sometimes exists around political figures and keeps them from the very people they are called to represent.
Other highlights of the week included a trip to one of the best ice cream places in town called Jubilee, a bowling outing with all of the interns, signing up for the Capitol Bikeshare program so I can bike around the city, an adventurous grocery store trip that took almost three hours, some really hard workouts courtesy of my workout buddy Vanessa, a visit from my friend Emilee from Furman, and celebrating the birthday of one of my roommates! Can’t believe it’s already been two full weeks, I know the rest of the summer is just going to fly by!