It’s been an exciting week at the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire. We attended the State of the Union Tuesday night, and I covered my first two meetings on Capitol Hill.
I’ve been on Capitol Hill before, but entering the Rayburn House Office Building for the first time for the meeting was still nerve-wracking. I almost walked around the security check line. I looked so nervous that a U.S. Capitol police officer, who seemed to sense my nervousness, joked that if the detector beeped when I went through, the building would blow up, and when it didn’t, he said that I had “made it.”
I asked him where 2360 Rayburn was and quickly headed to the meeting.
Between that and trying to lead the group around the Capitol Tuesday night, I learned that, despite how serious their jobs requires them to be, the Capitol police are also extremely helpful with directions.
The two meetings I went to fell somewhere between the limited experience I have from attending a few Senate committee meetings and the fictional image built around movies and TV shows.
The “Beltway bubble” quickly became a topic of discussion during the first meeting. Some of the people at the meeting discussed the disconnect and perceived perception problem between black voters, the Republican Party and black members of Congress. It reminded me how easy it is to fall within the “bubble.”
When I went back to Fort Smith, Ark., after being in D.C. for the summer two years ago, I was initially surprised that everyone didn’t want to talk about health care, the latest estimate from the Office of Management and Budget or Supreme Court nominations.
People back home were concerned with other things – how they were going to pay for their next semester of school or if the Whirlpool plant managers were about to announce another round of layoffs. (As it turns out, they were, and the plant will close this year.) President Barack Obama even indirectly mentioned the “Beltway bubble” in his State of the Union speech when he discussed the divide between Wall Street and Main Street: “The divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad – and it seems to get worse every year.”
Thinking about this reminded me that it is more important than ever for journalists to be able to connect the bigger ideas, themes and legislation that are affecting us at a national level, strip them of the jargon and vague rhetoric and inform those across the country how it will affect them at a local level. During the first week of our internship, a couple of the other interns and I met a journalist who shares the floor with Scripps Howard. He said that because we weren’t from Washington, we had foreigners’ eyes and to keep it that way as we cover events. The longer we’re here, the more I see the importance of his advice.
It’s an election year, so half-formed promises will be handed out like lollipops at a doctor’s office, and it’s our job to keep asking questions, keep digging and stay curious.