Ashbrook Scholar Interns for U.S. Senator

December 24, 2020

Ashbrook Scholar Interns for U.S. Senator
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Ashbrook Scholar Mariah Halleck spent six weeks this summer interning in the Capitol Hill office of Ohio Senator Rob Portman. A senior from Salem, Ohio, Halleck will graduate in December — having completed her degree requirements in only three and a half years — with a political science major and history and religion minors. We spoke with her about her internship, her experience as an Ashbrook Scholar, and her career plans.

Ashbrook Scholar Mariah Halleck
Ashbrook Scholar Mariah Halleck

Before the internship, had you been involved in politics?

I’ve grown up around politics, attending Republican Party events with my dad, who challenged Ted Strickland for his congressional seat in 2002. You could say politics led me to the Ashbrook Scholar program, because my dad suggested I apply after he came here for an event featuring Mitt Romney. At the end of my interview with Dr. Schramm, he handed me Winston Churchill’s My Early Life and said, “Read it!” I thought, “I need to do this. It sounds hard, but I don’t want to just breeze through college.” In the beginning, as all my friends headed off to bigger schools, I wondered about my choice. But I’ve found people know about the Ashbrook Scholar program and hold it in high regard.

What were your duties as an intern?

I expected I’d be serving coffee, but I actually got to do much more. I answered phones and constituent mail and gave tours of the Capitol. Ahead of Senator Portman’s trip to observe the Ukrainian presidential elections, I helped research Ukrainian government and politics, putting together a binder of information for him. I sat in on two conference calls with Homeland Security on unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Portman holds four important committee assignments. Interns are asked to sit in on committee meetings to take notes for staffers who can’t attend due to constituent meetings.

One of my jobs, along with another intern, was to read the news at the end of every day. We would go through The Hill, all the major national papers, and the Ohio papers, summarizing news and looking for any story that mentioned Portman. Since my internship, I continue to read the daily news, but now I do it on my laptop and iPhone.

What did you learn about the work of senators?

Senators fill a complex role. While congressmen are direct representatives of the people in their districts, senators represent an entire state; they also act on behalf of nation as a whole. Because there are only 100 of them, each is rather visible on Capitol Hill, even though the public back in Ohio may feel less in touch with their senators than they are with their representatives. Nevertheless, most senators spend Fridays through Mondays traveling around their home states, doing the work of the Senate Tuesday through Thursday. They are very busy.

What are your impressions of Senator Portman? He has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.

Portman is very respectful of interns. He himself started out as an intern and 16 years later defeated the congressman he interned for. I got a lot of face time with him. He asked me several questions about the Ashbrook Scholar program.

As a presidential candidate, he would bring a lot to the table. A recent op-ed suggested he has an advantage in not being well-known, and hence not carrying a lot of baggage. He has a lot of experience, having served as United States Trade Representative and Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. He listens to the other side, yet he is a skilled debater. Both McCain and Romney used him to stand in for Obama when practicing for presidential campaign debates. I met Senator McCain this summer, and he spoke about how difficult an opponent Portman was in the practice debates.

How did the Ashbrook Scholar program influence your plans for the future?

I love political science and history. In the Ashbrook Scholar program we’re taught to think about those together in a deep, contemplative way, and to relate them to the contemporary world. I began college expecting to continue into law school, but law school does not focus on the deeper questions. Going to DC helped me realize that I love the political world and want to work in it. I will try to get a political job in Columbus or Washington after I graduate in December. With elections in November, there will be a lot of hiring at the end of the year. After a couple of years working, I’ll know what field I can excel in, and I’ll be better able to decide on a graduate program.