Week 7: Fireworks - On the Lawn and in the Committee Room

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Friday, July 10, 2015


Drew Roberts

Fourth of July weekend led to some of the most interesting experiences of the summer.  A group of friends from UNC came to visit, so we saw many of the usual sites in the city: Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, National Zoo, and various museums.  This is always fun, but not the most unique experience.  It wasn't until Saturday, July 4th that this weekend became more than what the usual DC tourist might see.

The day was very long and rainy. My friends and I got the day started early, so that we could try to beat the crowds to many popular spots, considering how many people were in the city for the holiday.  After a few hours, rain started to put a damper on the collective mood.  The group retreated to a Starbucks to recharge and dry off.  After some coffee and relaxation, it was time to get back out there.  The rain had subsided and we decided that it would be worth trying to get some good seats for the concert on the Capitol lawn.

The concert was placed in the middle of the Capitol lawn, with public seating in front of the stage and Congressional seating on the steps behind.  Although it was stated that staff IDs would allow me to bring in guests to the Congressional area, I was skeptical that my bright orange intern ID would be sufficient to bring 6 friends in with me.  Still believing that we would likely be directed to the general seating in the wet lawn, we took a chance and tried to get on the Capitol steps.  Much to my surprise, we had no difficulties entering the staff entrance and after proceeding through security, we were standing squarely beneath the Capitol steps.Capitol building on the 4th of July.

Bradley Whitford, better known as Josh Lyman from The West Wing, hosted the concert which had a variety of acts inlcuding Barry Manilow, The National Symphony Orchestra, Alabama, and more.  This was one of the most fun experiences of my summer, and was only amplified by the rare and great view that we got of the concert and the following fireworks over the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

A long and tiring weekend lead into Congress returning to session after a week's vacation.  The committee had two hearings, hitting both ends of the spectrum of partisanship.  The latter hearing was on mitigating problems with the International Space Station, especially considering the recent SpaceX launch failure which prevented a resupply of the ISS.  This was a majorly bipartisan effort to find the best methods and paths moving forward to ensure that the future of space is in good hands.  The other hearing, was the complete opposite.  There was a single witness, EPA Administrator McCartney.  Often, the purpose of the hearing seemed to be "grill the administrator and embarass the EPA," with some topics drifting off into the ridiculous, with members recounting descriptions of wild, private parties hosted by EPA employees.  This hearing was very contentious, and provided much more entertainment than substance.  One member of the majority, who - amid all the theatrics of many other members - was very fair and seemed truly concerned with working with the EPA to better our regulation, was Mr. Moolenaar.  I am glad that he took such a reasonable and positive approach, as I have scheduled a meeting with him later that day.

Mr. Moolenaar played high school baseball for Herbert Henry Dow High School, the team that my grandfather coached many years ago.  Through this connection, I was able to get in touch with Mr. Moolenaar and set up a meeting.  Because of the craziness of House procedure that was going on that day, Mr. Moolenaar had to take our meeting in the Rayburn room of the Capitol, which already made this a special experience.  When I got there, Mr. Moolenaar talked with  Elias, who came to the meeting as well, and me about a wide variety of topics.  We connected all of our Michigan roots (both of my parents were born and raised in Midland, Michigan, which is in his district) and talked about the hearing earlier that day.  He even inquired about what type of career plans Elias and I were considering after receiving our undergraduate degrees and gave us advice about how his career path worked out, which was helpful considering his background in chemistry, a hard science.  He was an extremely nice and helpful person, and it was great to get the opportunity to meet him.  This experience capped off a truly amazing and memorable week here in DC.

Drew Roberts