Kennedy Placek, '18
Thinking like a congressman
By Vanessa Ochavillo, '18
Last summer, Kennedy Placek, '18, interned at the Washington, D.C. office of Republican Congressman Pete Sessions of Dallas, Texas, an experience that she said enhanced her understanding of the political landscape beyond the San Francisco Bay Area, and the processes behind the policies that shape our lives in the United States.
"I went there to be as enriched as I could, and I felt that his office would do that for me," Kennedy said.
When deciding where she wanted to do her Stanford in Government policy internship, Kennedy knew that she wanted to work for the head of a committee that fascinated her. Congressman Sessions chairs the Rules Committee, which oversees every piece of legislation that goes through Congress, crafts the legislation, and determines the rule that other bills will come to the House floor under. It is one of the most powerful Congressional committees.
Weeks into her internship, she earned a unique opportunity to join the Congressman's team tasked with reviewing the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the 2018 Appropriations Act. For the NDAA alone, she researched its more than 400 amendments and summarized each one for Congressman Sessions, recommending how he should vote based on his support for other bills and his alliances with other members of Congress.
"I had to ask myself what would Pete do or what would Pete think," she recalls. "There were some amendments that I would have personally wanted to strike down or vote ‘yes' on, but I knew Pete wouldn't," she said.
Kennedy attributes her ability to work on the policy-making team to the support she received from the office staffers and the opportunity to attend congressional hearings, where she witnessed first-hand how politics play out. Though there were the occasional heated hearings, like a senate intelligence committee hearing about possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, nearly all of the hearings were orderly and decisions were made.
But what struck Kennedy most from these meetings was the sight of her congressman shaking hands with Democrats. "When I saw that, I thought, ‘That should be the face of U.S. politics, someone reaching across the aisle,'" she said.
When she was not researching or sitting in on congressional hearings, she was responding to constituents' letters and giving tours of the Capitol to those who flew in from Texas. On these three-hour tours, she interacted closely with people she said she would have never met had she not done this internship. It was fulfilling to share her passion for the U.S. Capitol and connect with families full of Texas-pride—some of whom had not ventured beyond their city borders before coming to D.C. and came from different backgrounds and political beliefs.
"What I appreciated working for a congressman not from my state or my area was that I was exposed to an area of the country that I really didn't know much about," she said. "I wish other people would see that and would push themselves to work outside of their ideological and political comfort zones."