My Experience in the Senate Majority Leader’s Office
Ian Klenk served as a legislative intern for the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Who else can say they had a front-row seat to real federal legislation in action, or an historic motion to vacate the House Speakership, or Representative George Santos’ ultimate fall from grace? This past fall, I had the incredible opportunity to work as a legislative intern for the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. As the senior Senator from the state of New York, Senator Schumer’s office receives hundreds of phone calls a day from some of the 20 million constituents in our state. As Majority Leader, our legislative team works with a plethora of government agencies, advocacy groups, and our fellow Senate colleagues to advance Democratic policy priorities.
My main responsibilities as a legislative intern centered around answering constituent phone calls and assisting staff with hearing memos and legislative research. While answering the phone can be time consuming, listening to Americans from across the country was one of the most rewarding experiences during my semester; plus, interns always walk away with a few good stories about unique experiences with callers. Attending briefings and hearings allowed me to sharpen my understanding about the nuances of various policy portfolios. My personal passions center around labor, democracy, and climate change, so being able to witness in-depth analysis of labor unions or the protections of election workers really strengthened my command of the issues in these fields. One of the more notable hearings I attended was the Appropriations Committee hearing where Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin personally appealed to the Senate for President Biden’s supplemental aid package. I was also in attendance during the infamous Senate HELP Committee hearing where Senator Markwayne Mullin and Teamsters President Sean O’Brien nearly got into a physical altercation–and people have the nerve to say Washington is broken.
Aside from the daily tasks, working in a leadership office is really exciting! Senator Schumer hosted a series of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) Insight Forums in the fall to raise awareness about A.I. and edify Senate staff as they begin to craft legislation for this burgeoning technology field. Some other interns and I worked behind the scenes to prepare materials for the Senator and staff, set up the room, and check-in guests and speakers. As a result, I had the opportunity to personally welcome guests such as Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and many other notable leaders in Silicon Valley throughout my four months. I was also routinely tasked with escorting special guests to meet with Senator Schumer, including Dave Calhoun, the CEO of Boeing, and Cindy McCain, the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme. Beyond the special events, just the ability to see and work with individuals that shape federal legislative policy everyday was sincerely a true honor.
Interning in D.C. also helped me to realize my career goals. Staffers on Capitol Hill have an exciting, competitive life that is unique to other professions in the country. Especially for those working in leadership offices, the hours are long and the work is hard; it is particularly challenging for these individuals to strike a balance between their social life and professional goals. Working in this environment allowed me to reflect on my passions and recognize that life as a staffer in a congressional office was not a right fit for me or my goals. As you might imagine, I am so grateful that I was able to realize this before I graduated.
To those considering the SUNY Washington Internship Program, my advice is to go for it. I am so glad that I never got tired of walking through the Capitol every day, passing by Senators as I was going for coffee, or being a firsthand witness to some historic events in the U.S. Congress. I am proud that I get to use this professional experience as I move on to law school to set myself apart from other applicants. Even if you’re like me and don’t see yourself as a career staffer, an internship with any member of Congress will teach you valuable skills to support you as you begin any professional career.