This blog post was written by Jordan Minot, Accelerated MPP 2014.
Last Tuesday our Congress 101 class took Washington by storm. Tired and wired, we braved first the Metro and then the Senate metal detectors—some of us had more trouble than others. We finally made it in the building and meandered our way through the empty halls to our designated meeting place like lost, well-dressed sheep.
I had expected that we would meet some interesting people and get some honest insight about how Congress functions, but was not ready for the day we were about to have. We heard first from some fellow Batten folks who had graduated to the real world and gave us some insight about what life is like for recent graduates both on the Hill and in related NGOs. Next we met Mike Henry, Sen. Kaine’s Chief of Staff and David Katz, Senior Counsel on the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations. Talking to both of them allowed us considerable insight into the importance of staff in the functioning of Congress and the various ways people end up working on the Hill. Feeling more confident and comfortable in our role of group inquisition we were surprised by Senator Kaine. We had been warned that he might drop by but were pleasantly surprised when he gave us the better part of an hour of his time. We were still getting over this when Senator Warner made an appearance. For a few minutes we had the entire Virginia delegation to the Senate to ourselves. When Sen. Kaine left, Sen. Warner stayed and gave us even more time for questions and a slightly different perspective on the challenges they face. With Sen. Warner called to a meeting by anxious staffers we departed for the House, star-struck and starving.
Someone clearly had not been told that we were coming and inconsiderately scheduled a vote right in the middle of our afternoon schedule. Fortunately Professor Warburg, Blackberry in hand, was able to deftly reschedule the remainder of our day. The result was a whirlwind meeting with four Virginia Representatives—three of them at one time. During this time we were able to see the differences between members new, senior, Democrat, or Republican and, because of our eventful morning, we could compare what we learned to our experience in the Senate. The House experience was rounded out by Chris Connelly, Chief of Staff to Representative Scott Rigell who provided the perfect wrap-up for the our meetings with honest insight in his experience both in and out of Congress and a unique perspective on how the body has changed in recent years.
For our last excursion we bustled out of our conference room and headed to the Capitol itself. There we concluded with an exclusive tour of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations room and tried to fathom how many important policy-makers had met there. (Simone even got to sit in President Obama’s chair!) When we left the deserted building we just had energy for a quick wrap up by Professor Warburg and some final group pictures. No one seemed sure about any one take-away for the day—probably because we were all worrying about stat homework—but we knew we had just had an experience that we’d be unlikely to top anytime soon.