At the time
this article was written Josh Bruser was a grade 11 student in La Jolla,
California. He worked as an intern in the office of United States Senator
Joe Biden during the summer of 2002.
United States has a long tradition in both the public and private sector of
creating internship programmes to allow students to experience what it is like
to work in a particular business or profession. These unpaid positions are
usually in great demand as participants recognize the incredible experience
they gain by spending a few weeks or months as an intern. Senators and Members
of the House of Representatives may engage one or more interns. This article
outlines the experience of one Senate intern during the summer of 2002.
My interest in politics developed quite
early and by the time I started high school I began thinking of a possible
career in public service. During the winter of 2001 Joseph Biden the Democratic
Senator from Delaware was on a speaking tour in California. I went to some of
the events and like many others had my photograph taken with him. I decided to
write him a letter indicating that I agreed wholeheartedly with the views he
I received a very warm letter in
response and he invited me to come and see him if I was ever in Washington. He
also mentioned the existence of intern opportunities with Senators and
Congressmen. I decided to take up his suggestion and sent another letter with a
résumé and asked to be considered for an intern position in his office. To my
amazement, partly because I was not yet 18 years old and partly because I was
from California and not Delaware, I was offered a six week internship.
My family was even more surprised,
particularly at the thought of a 17 year old spending six weeks alone in
Washington. After many family discussions it was decided this was an
opportunity not to be missed so I accepted the offer and during the spring
break we took a trip to Washington to look into possible living accommodations.
It was decided the best solution would be for the entire family to rent an
apartment in Washington for the six weeks of my internship.
We arrived in Washington on June 20.
The temperature was over 100 degrees and incredibly humid. The heat continued
virtually unabated throughout my six weeks and it can certainly cause a great
shock to the system. My father, having put up with about a month of the hottest
weather decided to head back to San Diego but my mother, who is originally from
Canada, and I slowly began to adapt and by the end we hardly noticed it
Senator Biden was Chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman of the Subcommittee of Crime and Drugs,
and Chairman of the International Narcotics Control Committee. He also has a
seat on the powerful Judiciary Committee, which he chaired in the 1980s when
the Democrats had a comfortable majority in the Senate. The Senator has more
than 70 offices in Washington and Delaware with over a hundred people working
for him in Washington alone.
When I entered the main office for the
first time I was met by the Senator’s assistant chief of staff, Paul Rosen.
Phyllis Martell, who was my intern coordinator was sick for my first day. Paul
took me to the large back room where the interns worked. He introduced me to
Trevor, an intern from Georgetown University, and Sarah Verth from Brighton,
England who was spending the summer as an intern for Senator Biden.
Both had already been there for about
four weeks. They showed me the basic work of the office, such as opening the
large amount of mail. They explained that I could wear protective gloves if I
wanted to protect myself from any anthrax or radiation threat. They also showed
me how to sign letters that Biden’s staffers had written to constituents. The
Senator sends about 100 letters out to various constituents each day, and
instead of signing them, his office has the “auto-pen” which is literally a
machine with arms that reaches out and signs his signature.
There are lots of tedious tasks to be
done in an office, and I think I did all of them during my first few weeks. I
delivered toners for Xerox machines to the Senate Post Office to be mailed back
to the toner company and refilled with ink. I went to buy flags at the Senate
Stationary store and took them up to Printing and Graphics to be mailed to
constituents. I photocopied the Congressional Daily and Congressional
Quarterly, which I then distributed throughout all three Senate buildings.
I had the time-consuming task of xeroxing the Senator’s train vouchers and at
one point Phyllis got angry with me because I misplaced a voucher.
As I became familiar with the Senate
environment, I was given some more interesting tasks such as doing research at
the Library of Congress. I worked with a very nice intern, Sarah Conboy, a
Delaware native who attended Delaware State University. The research we did was
on photo film strips that we pulled through a machine. The strips were of old
newspapers from the Delaware Sun Times. They were magnified on a
computer, and we had to look for articles with Senator Biden’s name. After
several hours of this you started to feel dizzy.
Two weeks into my internship, the
interns switched. I had arrived in DC at an off-intern session, thus I was
there for 1/3 of the first summer intern session and 2/3 of the second summer
intern session. The interns for the second session were much friendlier. They
included Katie from Duke University, Brant from Georgetown Dan from Harvard,
Rachel from McGill University in Montreal, Bryce from Mississippi State
University, and Anuj from the University of Illinois. The only intern who
stayed was Sarah, the girl from England.
Julia, another staff assistant, showed
me how to give a tour to constituents. This gave me a chance to see the Senate
in action. On my first tour I watched Senator Paul Sarbanes, a Democrat from
Maryland, debate Senator Phil Gramm, a Republican from Texas, about the
Sarbanes Bill which would bring stronger punishment and more accountability to
people who engage in corporate misconduct.
At this point I had been in Washington
for three weeks and still had not met Senator Biden. So Dan Springer and I
decided to go to a Foreign Relations Committee hearing to see him in action.
But when we arrived Senator Feingold was in the chair and Senator Biden was
nowhere to be seen. So we went to a luncheon with Senator Susan Collins, a
Maine Republican, where she discussed improving the Navy. After that, we went to
the House of Representatives, and watched them debate.
One day Rachel (the intern from McGill)
came in all giddy. She got into an elevator, and right behind her was Senator
Biden. He said to her “So which one of these bums do you work for?” Rachel,
awestruck, replied “ummmm you”. At which point Senator Biden and Senator Graham
of Florida who was with him, broke down laughing uncontrollably. Talk about a
classic way to meet your Senator!
My introduction came shortly
thereafter. I was really late in photocopying and delivering the Press Clips,
and Phyllis was not amused. When I returned she asked me to take something to
the Senator’s personal assistant’s office. I did, and Senator Biden happened to
be there. I said good afternoon to him, and he came over and shook my hand. We
talked for a minute about my internship and how I met the Senator in
California. I left the office ecstatic.
A day or two later I personally
delivered the Senator his lunch (a salad). I had to run from SR-221 to S-211,
which is on the other side of Capitol Hill. But the woman who gave me the salad
forgot to give me dressing and a fork, so I had to run to the Senate Cafeteria,
and was late getting back. Thankfully though, the Senator was not mad. The last
thing I had to do that day was deliver a purse to a woman in the House Rayburn
Building. She was a Delaware resident, and had come to visit Senator Biden. Her
child was going to be given some prestigious award, and on her way to the award
luncheon, she left her purse at Senator Biden’s office. It took a lot of
searching and running around before I finally found the room she was in.
Toward the end of my internship, I
began to give several tours. They generally consisted of the following: Leave
Senator Biden’s office, take the Senate Subway over to the Capitol. Take the
underground walkway until you reach the tour elevator. Upstairs is the famous
dome of the capitol, also known as the Rotunda. Discuss the Apotheosis on top
of the Rotunda, and the Frieze that goes around it. Discuss the eight oil
paintings that go around the room. Then walk over to Statuary Hall, also known
as the “whispering room”. The room’s acoustics allow someone in one end of the
room to whisper, and someone in another part of the room to hear. Demonstrate
this to tourists, and discuss the statues in the room. Take the tourists
downstairs into the Crypt, and discuss the catalfalque. Take them into the old
Supreme Court Chamber, and then take them upstairs to the Senate Gallery so
they can watch a Senate debate firsthand. Then exit the Capitol Building toward
the Washington Monument, where the tourists get a wonderful view of the
monument the fields, the Department of Agriculture and Commerce, and the
On one tour I bumped into Congressman
Gephardt, the House Minority Leader. Virtually no one knew who he was. Then
Gary Condit walked by and everyone started pointing at him and saying “Look,
it’s Gary Condit!” And he waved back at everyone. How sad. Everyone in the
nation knows an obscure Congressman named Condit while no one knew the House
I think it was pretty close to the last
day of my internship when Senator Biden called a roundtable for all his interns
and junior staff members (basically those of us who never see him). We all had
our pictures taken with him, and he talked to us for one-half hour. The reason,
he explained, that he has not been able to see us, is because every night he
has been travelling home to Delaware to be with his seriously ill father.
He told us what it has been like to be
a United States Senator (he has been one for 30 years). He told us how he got
President Clinton to send troops into Kosovo. He urged President Clinton to do
so for two years, until one night at 3:00 in the morning, the President called
and said “Joe, we are going in tomorrow”
Senator Biden also told us about his
views on abortion, and how he is generally pro-choice. He told us that he
believes abortion is morally wrong, and that it involves two competing lives,
but that he could never tell another woman what she can and cannot do with her
body. Finally, he also told us about his first real decision in the Senate,
which involved a debate over lead and coal.
Over the last few days of my
internship, I saw many more Senators, because they had a lot more votes to finish
up their business before the Senate recessed for the summer. It was during this
point that Senator Biden was having a very critical debate regarding the treaty
known as Support Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (SEDAW). This is
generally a very pro-women treaty, which almost all the civilized world has
signed. But the religious conservatives were out in full force. It was my job
to answer the phones for several days. This was one of the most enjoyable
aspects of the internship, because you talk to so many different people from
around the country. Interns answer the phone saying “Senator Biden’s Office”.
The religious conservatives were
calling in non-stop, literally, for a week. There was not one time when the
phones were not busy. At one point, Dan Springer and I, played a joke on
someone who wanted to speak to the Senator. I yelled to Dan, “Senator Biden,
someone on the phone wants to speak to you!” Dan then answered, “Tell him that
I appreciate his opinion, and that Joe sends his best regards!” The guy on the
other line heard this, and actually believed it. It was mean, but funny.
Senator Biden is so busy that he rarely reads his mail or takes phone calls.
That is what his staff is for.
On the second last day of my
internship, I was asked to work as Senator Biden’s assistant at a Crime and
Drug Hearing. My job was to pour water for all the Senators who attended (it
turned out to be only Senator Biden and Senator Sessions). Various messages
came into the anteroom, where I was stationed. At one point, I got a call from
the President of Columbia, who needed to urgently speak to Senator Biden. I
gave him the message, and he came into the anteroom and took the call. After I
left the hearing, I had to find Senators Cantwell and Specter so they could to
sign a bill they were cosponsoring with Senator Biden.
No matter how busy it was, staff and
Senators seem to find time for the nightly softball games that take place on a
field right below the capitol. Each Senator can opt to form a softball team.
Senator Biden and Carper (the two Delaware Senators) had the Blue-Rocks team,
composed of Biden, Carper, their staff, and interns. I remember one game we
were playing the Dixie Chicks, a team composed of staff from Senators Landrieu
and Lincoln, who are two of the nicest looking female Senators. We won the
game. Senator Biden and Carper both played. They both chatted with players and
spectators. It was very casual. These guys do not want to be treated like gods,
they want to be treated as people.
Of course there were lots of other
things to do in Washington away from the Capitol. I saw my share of museums and
monuments but perhaps the most fun was attending the taping of CNN’s Cross
Fire at George Washington University. Tickets were free although you had to
line up to get them in advance. It was great fun watching James Carvelle and
Tucker Carlson match wits in front of a live audience.
I actually went twice. The first time
with my mom and Rachel. The guests included Senators Boxer and Grassley, and
they discussed corporate fraud. At the end, I got my picture with Carville and
Carlson. As it turns out, Tucker is from La Jolla, and he went to La Jolla
Country Day School. Later research on Tucker revealed that his mother is heir
to the Swanson TV Dinner fortune. The second time I went the topic was still
corporate fraud this time with Senator George Allen and Robert Reich. It also
discussed whether or not prisoners should be able to watch R and X rated movies
in prison. I was selected to ask one of the questions. I decided to ask
Republican Senator Allen why all the Republicans were blaming the Clinton
administration for corporate misconduct, when all the CEOs who headed the
companies in trouble were Republican partisans. Unfortunately several people
were selected before me and I never got to ask my question on national
television because time ran out.
As my internship came to a close, I
began to reflect on the experience. I had worked for six weeks with some of the
most powerful people in the world. I learned the idiocyncracies of Capitol
Hill, and I now understand the legislative process. But the best part was the
friendships and fun times I had with the other interns as well as the various
staff members. It was not just about politics. It was about life. It is an experience
I would recommend to anyone.