In her internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Hope College student Isabelle Rembert (’19) would have worked on planning and running an international summit, giving her an opportunity not only to gain experience in her field of interest but to interact with the diplomats who would attend the summit. Her fellow student intern in the D.C. Semester program, Taylor Hitchingham (’19), would have been able to explore the policy area she’s particularly drawn to—agricultural policy—through an internship at the State Department. Instead, Rembert and Hitchingham spent more than a month waiting for the government to reopen.
On Friday, President Trump agreed to bring a temporary end to the partial government shutdown that left 800,000 federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay for 35 days. But when I interviewed the D.C. interns last week, the government had not yet reopened, and there was no clear end in sight to the record-breaking funding lapse. Rembert and Hitchingham described similar experiences during their days of waiting. They were able to tour some of the city’s museums and visit the monuments. Rembert was able to watch some of the proceedings of a Supreme Court case. Both still attended classes and interviewed policy actors along with the other students in the program. They had also picked up some chores for their housemates. “It’s kind of a joke now,” said Rembert, who mentioned that she felt like a mom as she did her friends’ household tasks after they went off to their internships. She did add, though, that this was the first week she’d really started to get impatient as the shutdown dragged on. Hitchingham also expressed frustration. “I came here to work and get experience,” she said. “I feel like I’m wasting my time.” Both students had made efforts to look for other opportunities to gain work experience in the meantime, but the uncertainty surrounding the shutdown made this a difficult process.
Rembert had interviewed for another internship, but she was hesitant to accept a different position when she knew that the government could reopen any day. Hitchingham had accepted an interim internship on the morning of the day I spoke to her, but she still intended to work at the State Department as soon as the shutdown ended. Hitchingham mentioned that for both her and Rembert, one positive aspect of their experience was that it had pushed them to think more broadly about opportunities outside of government work, making them aware of private-sector options they might not have otherwise considered. Just being in D.C. had also given them a more intimate encounter with the effects of the shutdown. “Everyone’s very aware of it,” said Rembert, who talked about seeing deals everywhere offering free things to anyone who had a government ID and meeting Uber drivers who were furloughed workers. Hitchingham described how it was “so much more disheartening” to witness the effects of the shutdown up close and added that from this vantage point the whole situation seemed “more humanitarian than political”—so many people in her community were unemployed and worrying about how to buy food, pay rent and get their medications. “Despite the delay, the ability to experience this kind of history first-hand was rewarding,” said both Rembert and Hitchingham in a joint statement.
Now that the government has reopened, Rembert and Hitchingham can start their long-delayed internships. Rembert began work on the 29th , and Hitchingham will start next month. They’re relieved, but they’re aware that the clock is ticking. Trump has set a three-week deadline to reach an agreement on border security funding before he tries to circumvent Congress with his emergency powers or close the government again. In the meantime, some lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at preventing a shutdown from ever happening again. The name of their bill, as the New York Times reports, summarizes the feelings of so many Americans over the past several weeks: “Stop Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage in the Coming Years,” otherwise known as the “Stop Stupidity Act.”