WEST DES MOINES, IOWA (August 15, 2019) — It seems the only reachable consensus among Americans is that we’re divided. Just scroll through Twitter. Nearly everything is passed through a political lens prescribed by a set narrative. So when I stepped into Senator Charles "Chuck" Grassley’s Washington DC office as an intern, I was expecting more of the same. But to my surprise, my experience in Sen Grassley’s office wasn’t like that all. From my work responsibilities to the atmosphere in the office, and the senator himself, almost nothing about my internship was what I expected.
I was placed in Sen Grassley’s press department. Part of my duties included reading articles and gathering TV clips from a wide variety of sources. I was surprised at how differently media-outlets cover the same events. Consuming so much news every day for six weeks definitely reinforced some of my perceptions of a divided Washington, but it also dispelled some of them, too. No matter the bent of the coverage, the fact always remained that Sen Grassley’s legislative efforts were always done on a bipartisan basis. That’s something he and his staff regularly commented on — not much gets done on a partisan basis.
Another surprising thing about the internship was the atmosphere. Regarding the press department specifically, I thought it reflected the senator himself: fast-paced but composed, busy but always available and present. In fact, the entire office was a reflection of Sen Grassley’s work ethic and attitude toward service. On my first day, multiple staff-members said that their priority was to do everything they could to help the senator serve Iowans. Time and again, I saw how important that was to every member of the staff. I think that’s a testament to Sen Grassley and how much he loves Iowa and the people he represents.
In general, I found Capitol Hill to be friendlier than I expected. Most people were happy to make time for me and my fellow interns to share their professional experience, provide useful suggestions about things such as the pros and cons of going to graduate school versus finding a job after graduation, offering tips on resume-writing, and effective networking. I also met a lot of interns from different offices and who held opposing political beliefs. It was surprising to learn that we shared more things in common than things that separated us. That’s one of the most interesting aspects of Washington — despite glaring political differences, people can equally appreciate the history and significance of the work that happens here, as well as the shared goal of working to make things better for the people we care about.
Out of everything I learned, experienced, and found surprising about my internship in Sen Grassley’s Washington office, the most surprising was the senator himself. My favorite memory was when the senator and his wife, Barbara, took all the interns to breakfast in the Senate Members Dining Hall. He asked all of us to introduce ourselves and engaged us directly. He asked specific follow-up questions and was genuinely interested in what we had to say. It would be so easy for someone like him to be dismissive and callous, but he was incredibly kind and sincere.
Sincerity is a trait rarely synonymous with Washington. Too often, the nation’s capital resembles a foreign embassy oceans away from the people it represents. That, combined with an outwardly-divisive political climate, and it’s no surprise that many who I told about my summer plans responded with comments about gridlock and partisanship.
I’m happy to say that gridlock and partisanship were things I didn’t experience in Sen Grassley’s office. He works on both sides of the aisle, even if, by his own admission, that aisle seems to widen with each passing term. His drive to represent all Iowans, not just those in his political party, is apparent. And with that, he presents a clear path forward for his interns, his staff, and anyone interested in making a real difference. Listening to all with an open mind but with steadfast convictions.
The reality, as I learned during my time on Capitol Hill, is that most people want the best for those around them, whether it be coworkers, friends, or even constituents. It seems like an oxymoron that getting dropped in Washington DC taught me that we’re all more similar than different, but that’s exactly what it did. So while Twitter trolls and some in partisan media might try to pull us apart, I have no doubt that time-tested American values will keep us together. In the spirit of democracy and progress, young people will build off the accomplishments of those who came before us, such as public servants like Sen Grassley, to ensure advancement toward a better tomorrow.
Rachel Collins is a native of West Des Moines and is currently a senior at St. Bonaventure University. She interned in Sen. Grassley’s Washington DC office during the 2019 summer session.