Washington Post: After ‘terrorizing’ Congress, interns get selfies with all 100 senators

Two classes of summer interns for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) competed to take photos with every senator on the Hill

On Thursday evening, a group of high school graduates waited nervously outside the Senate floor. Congress’s August recess loomed. The eight summer interns working for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) didn’t have any bills to pass, but they too faced a pressing deadline.

They were looking for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). An urgent call went out for the senator on Twitter, and finally, staffers ushered her through the Senate doors.

“I don’t want to be left out!” Klobuchar told the group before they gathered for a selfie.

So concluded the months-long mission that two classes of interns for Murkowski had doggedly pursued throughout the summer: to take a photo with all 100 U.S. senators before their internships ended.

The challenge started as a proposal from an internship coordinator in Murkowski’s office as a way for the interns to meet more members of Congress. Then it became a fiercely competitive rivalry. Murkowski’s first class of interns managed to wrangle 75 senators during their month-long internship in June. Her second cohort arrived in July and vowed to top it.

“The senator, she was so for it,” Sierra Sterling, one of Murkowski’s July interns, told The Washington Post. “We just decided, ‘Hey, there’s a vote today at five o’clock, so we’ll go sit down at the [Capitol] subway and we’ll see if we can find any senators walking in and out.’”

The July interns led a tenacious campaign that took until Thursday to finish. Sterling and her fellow interns studied flashcards so they could recognize the senators they needed to find. Tales of their efforts, which included staking out corridors in the Capitol and outfoxing reporters to secure brief asides with the country’s most senior lawmakers, brought a welcome levity to Capitol Hill this summer.

“Hell hath no fury like the group of Murkowski interns terrorizing the entire Senate with requests for photos,” HuffPost politics reporter Igor Bobic tweeted in mid-July.

In a statement to The Post, Murkowski praised her interns and said they had been well received by her colleagues. In between taking selfies, the interns attended hearings and shadowed Murkowski at votes and congressional meetings, she added.

“I want young Alaskans to have this type of opportunity — not just to meet all 100 U.S. Senators, but to see Congress, and the important work done here, up close,” Murkowski said.

Shanone Tejada, an internship coordinator for Murkowski’s office, proposed the idea to the first cohort of interns soon after they arrived in Washington in early June. It would be a way to get to know the country’s politicians away from C-SPAN and the news headlines, he said.

The perfect spot to catch the senators was near the entrance to the Capitol’s internal subway that ferries staffers between the Senate and their office buildings on Capitol Hill. Tejada and the interns waited there after votes and coaxed exiting senators into stopping for a quick photo. Most everyone, to their surprise, said yes.

“They kind of didn’t have anywhere else to go,” said Ellie Shaw, a June intern. “And they would much rather come take a picture with us than talk to some reporters.”

Whenever they had time between shadowing Murkowski and assisting her office, Shaw and her fellow interns returned to the escalator by the subway. They slowly worked through the Senate roster, like hobbyists completing a collection.

“I think we got Senators Sanders, Cruz and Warren all on one day,” Shaw said. “That was a really big day for us.”

Their progress stopped after the Senate went into recess over the final week of their internship in June. Still, they had gathered an impressive number of selfies. When the next group of interns arrived in July, Tejada threw down the gauntlet.

“I told the second session, ‘Hey, the first session only got 75 senators,’” Tejada said. “‘Can you guys match that?’”

Sterling and the rest of the July cohort insisted they would start from scratch and get all 100. They became more assertive than their peers a month earlier, Tejada said, approaching the senators to ask for photos without Tejada introducing them first.

News of the mission began to spread through the Capitol’s halls. Congressional reporters tracked the interns’ progress on Twitter.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) offered to help the group wrangle Senate leadership. A fellow in the Defense Department’s legislative fellowship program helped them secure a five-minute meeting with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the president pro tempore.

Eventually, they felt bold enough to branch out to the House and approached Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) to ask for a photo, too.

“His staffer goes, ‘They’re famous on Twitter, you really do want to take this photo,’” Sterling said, laughing.

By Thursday, the interns were missing just three of the 100 senators. While the Senate voted that afternoon on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, Murkowski ushered Sens. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) to the Senate reception room to bring the interns to the cusp of completion.

An Anchorage Daily News reporter tweeted that the group just needed Klobuchar. She arrived just in time — the interns took the final selfie hours before the Senate gaveled out for its August recess.

Both cohorts are still deciding what to do with their hard-fought collection of photos, Sterling said. They’re considering making them into a photo book. The interns, all 18-year-olds, are now preparing for their freshman year at college, content to have made their mark on Capitol Hill.

“Hands down, it was probably the best month of my life,” Shaw said. “Especially from Alaska, you don’t really get opportunities like this a lot.”

“It was cool to see other people in the hallway be like, ‘Wait, you’re a Murkowski intern, aren’t you?’” Sterling said. “And I’m like, ‘Yes, yes, I am. And proud to be one.’

By:  Daniel Wu