The Final Days at Senator Paul’s Office

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill
Ten weeks have come and gone in the blink of an eye and here I am, putting a neat little bow on the tidy story I have composed of my adventures in and around the Capitol this summer. From first meeting Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in Part 1, to attending Senate and House Committee hearings in Part 2, to speaking to individuals from both sides of the aisle over the intense debt ceiling debate in Part 3, and even attending the Congressional Baseball Game in Part 4, this summer has been like no other. It has certainly been a blast getting to know everyone in Senator Paul’s office, and Senator Paul himself, and I will not forget any of my experiences anytime soon. Many would be reduced to tears at the mere thought of completing such an enlightening and altogether enjoyable internship, but as Churchill so aptly put it, I look at the past as the beginning of my immersion into the “liberty” movement and the future as the continuation of a more durable and long-lasting political journey.  Let me shift gears, though, before I become sappy and insufferable.

The Last Week
My final week as an intern could not have come at a more wild time, in retrospect: the debt ceiling deadline was Tuesday, Aug. 2nd, and as events turned out, I would be in the nation’s capital for a bird’s-eye view of the historic vote. The Monday before the deadline, a compromise deal was struck between Republicans in the House and President Obama to raise the debt limit by over $2 trillion now, and giving powers to a 12-man “Super Committee” to hash out guidelines for deficit reduction. While on the phones that rang incessantly on Monday, I heard it in both ears from Tea Partiers and Democrats alike: the former felt the compromise was a half-hearted political stunt, and the latter felt it was a “Satan sandwich” that overly favored the GOP.
One individual from the right thought that “President Obama was not one to be trusted,” while someone from the left thought the “Tea Party was hijacking the economy” for political gain. Both stuck to the major theme of the debt negotiations: compromise was either a necessary force for good or antithetical to a stand on principled fiscal policy.
Combine this with the noted spike in faxes from Americans sick of Congress’s job in handling the debt crisis, and my first day back on the Hill was quite eventful. Try hearing, seeing, and saying the word “debt” about three thousand times in a single day – wow, what a day.
If my internship were a story, then Tuesday, Aug. 2 would undoubtedly be the climactic moment. Moments before the vote, Senator Paul summoned the interns to his office. Much to our surprise, he requested our presence to accompany him to the Capitol to watch the procession from the Senate Gallery. Along with his Chief of Staff and Communications Secretary, we walked outside with Senator Paul to the front doors of the Capitol (about a two-minute walk). Along the way, we saw a modest group of individuals holding up signs urging the legislators to oppose any compromise short of a balanced budget amendment, and had to walk past rather tight security around the Capitol since Vice President Biden was in attendance.
Senator Paul made his way in through the member’s entrance, while we entered through the upstairs Gallery entrance, which was filled to absolute capacity. The vote was rather predictable, but the gravity of the matter was obvious. Every Senator congregated in small partisan pockets on the Senate floor, buzzing with political talk, while staffers outside all typed into BlackBerry’s at a feverish rate. We interns and the spectators were all hushed, half-deferential to the decorum of the Senate Gallery and partly acknowledging of the ponderous nature of the compromise bill. We all knew what the final vote would be like, but to be there was nonetheless surreal.  Senator Paul cast a “No” vote with 25 other Senators since he felt it lacked a balanced budget amendment and would add $7 trillion in new debt over the next decade. Afterwards, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) convened an early recess, citing the long hours and hard work put in by both sides and their staffs over the past few weeks.
Well, I finally got my recess, but afterwards, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) e-mailed supporters of his Senate Conservatives Fund PAC with a list of conservative Senators who had voted against the debt compromise, urging them to take a moment to thank them. Even though we were in recess, we received calls for the next two-days from people all over the country thanking Senator Paul for his vote. The average call only lasted about 45 seconds, and all were supportive, making it a whole lot easier than the tall task of placating detractors.
On Thursday, we were all invited to a staff luncheon, at which the Chief of Staff surprised us all with pizza and informed us that the office would be closed on Friday as a thank you to those staffers who had worked late over the weekend. That means it would be my last day as an intern. After lunch, I counted down the hours and minutes to the end of my stay, and when that time arrived, I said my final goodbyes to every staffer I could find and turned in my Senate ID badge. It was a fun ride, and I was getting back into the New York groove, after all.
Looking Back…
It has been the experience of a lifetime, that much is certain, but if I were to generalize and share some lessons that I have taken away from my experience, these would be the ones:

  1. Enjoy Every Minute On the Job. No matter how you are feeling on a given day, it is always encouraging to reinforce your place in the world. “You are interning on Capitol Hill,” definitely does the trick. Constituent calls can be draining, but it is doubly gratifying to assist an individual answer a question or resolve an issue. Logging correspondence online could be monotonous, but it means someone out there is getting his or her voice heard. There really is no way to look at the internship in a negative light: the essence of public service is helping others with a smile and that stands out most. Well, there are the infinitesimal perks associated with Capitol Hill interning, too…
  2. There Is Always Something Happening on the Hill. At any given hour of any given day of the week, there is always some random event occurring. Be it a free lunch hosted by the CATO Institute or National Rifle Association, or a Committee Hearing in the House or Senate, or an ice cream social on the Capitol lawn, you can never go a day without a semi-busy schedule.
  3. Volunteer As Much As Possible. Ostensibly, running errands around the office buildings does not seem so glamorous, but it is quite the treat for political junkies. I cannot count how many times I have run into Senators and Representatives by walking the halls of the Capitol. I have seen everyone from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.). It is especially intriguing to ride in the same underground Capitol subway car with a Senator and his staffers before an impending floor speech.
  4. Take Initiative. It reflects well upon you and can fill a vital need in the office.
  5. It Is Possible to Have Fun on the Job. Even if dealing with a seemingly insurmountable pile of work, it is possible to have fun doing it. Just by striking up a conversation with a fellow intern or staff member and living vicariously through their experiences, you can increase your net enjoyment twentyfold. Washington may be like a stalled automobile, but the individuals who keep the wheel turning are unlike any you are likely to find out there, so make the most of every minute.

Before I punch out, I would just like to thank Senator Paul and his staff for putting my résumé aside in the spring and bringing me aboard. It was the experience of a lifetime.
The opinions of this blog are solely those of Naji Filali and do not reflect the beliefs of Senator Rand Paul or his staff.
Photo Credit: The Christian Science Monitor

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