Chuck Schumer calls 4/20 an ‘unofficial American holiday’ as he makes the case for marijuana legalization

chuck schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called 4/20 an “unofficial American holiday.”
  • The top Democrat made his case to “end the federal prohibition on marijuana.”
  • April 20 is usually a day weed users celebrate the recreational drug.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As weed users across the country celebrate April 20 on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer marked the occasion as an “unofficial American holiday” and made his case for marijuana legalization.

“Today is what you might call a very unofficial American holiday: 4/20,” the top Democrat said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “It’s as appropriate a time as any to take a hard look at our laws that have over-criminalized the use of marijuana and put it on par with heroin, LSD and other narcotics that bear little or no resemblance in their effects either on individuals or on society more broadly.”

Schumer described the disproportionate effect that drug laws have had on people of color over the past decades, prompting the need for a “comprehensive reform effort.”

Young men and women “have been arrested and jailed for even carrying a small amount of marijuana – a charge that often came with exorbitant penalties and a serious criminal record, from which they might never recover,” Schumer said. “It makes no sense and it’s time for a change.”

The New York Democrat said he soon plans to craft legislation that would “end the federal prohibition on marijuana” and “ensure restorative justice.”

Marijuana arrests make up more than half of all drug arrests in the United States, according to an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union. The data showed that Black people are nearly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana.

Public support for cannabis reform has grown in recent years as several states have moved to end restrictions on the recreational drug. A Gallup poll in November revealed that a majority of Americans -68% – are in favor of legalization.

Thirty-six states have already legalized medical marijuana, and 16 states, along with Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana for adults over the age of 21. New York, Schumer’s home state, joined that list in March.

Schumer has previously made clear his intentions to act on federal marijuana legalization, even if President Joe Biden is reluctant to. Biden has yet to embrace the position.

“Hopefully the next time this unofficial holiday of 4/20 rolls around, our country will have made progress in addressing the massive over-criminalization of marijuana in a meaningful and comprehensive way,” Schumer said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden “supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states.”

On the federal level, Biden backs “decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records,” and “legalizing medical marijuana,” Psaki added.

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Ex-Trump critic J.D. Vance is running for Senate after meeting with Trump and Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel at Mar-a-Lago, according to new report

J.D. Vance
J.D. Vance

  • Venture capitalist J.D. Vance has told friends that he will run for retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s Ohio seat in 2022, Axios first reported on Thursday.
  • Vance, author of the bestselling 2016 memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” recently met with former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
  • Before Trump’s 2016 win, Vance said Trump “would be terrible for the country.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Venture capitalist J.D. Vance has told friends that he will run for retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s Ohio seat in 2022, Axios first reported on Thursday.

Vance, who made a name for himself with his bestselling 2016 memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” recently met with former President Donald Trump and conservative Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Axios reported.

The 36-year-old Marine veteran and Yale Law School graduate was highly critical of Trump before he was elected president.

“I can’t stomach Trump. I think that he’s noxious and is leading the white working class to a very dark place,” Vance told NPR’s Terry Gross before Trump’s win in 2016. He also told conservative commentator Mona Charen, “If Trump wins it would be terrible for the country, but good for book sales.”

As Vance predicted, he became a popular translator of the issues facing the struggling white working-class that helped power Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. Over the last few years, he’s become a loyal Republican.

Vance previously worked for Thiel’s venture capital firm, Mithril Capital. In 2019, he founded his own firm, Narya, which invests in start-ups in under-resourced areas. Thiel and other prominent Silicon Valley figures, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and two top Facebook executives, contributed to Vance’s $90 million fund.

Thiel has helped shepherd Vance into politics and donated $10 million to the super PAC Protect Ohio Values, which was set up to back Vance’s Senate bid.

While Vance built his career in finance on support from prominent tech executives, he’s recently taken to condemning the power of “Big Tech” along with other conservatives politicians. He’s called on the Republican Party to remake itself as the champion of the working class and aligned himself with the likes of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who he recently argued “is the only powerful figure who consistently challenges elite dogma – on both cultural and economic questions.”

Several other Republicans have already entered the Senate primary, and the race is looking to be one of the most-watched of the cycle.

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Senate Republicans are drafting their own infrastructure plan and want to tax people for it, not corporations

Mitt Romney
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).

  • Republicans are starting to draft an infrastructure plan in a bid to strike a deal with Biden.
  • It may shift the financial burden of the plan onto people instead of large corporations.
  • The plan could come in at less than half of the $2.3 trillion proposal laid out by the White House.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A group of Senate Republicans is assembling an infrastructure plan, part of a bid to strike a deal with President Joe Biden on a package that’s more narrowly targeted in scope.

The Republican faction appears to consist of the same 10 GOP senators who pitched Biden a $618 billion stimulus package in early February. Those negotiations didn’t yield a breakthrough, as the Democrats passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus without any Republican votes.

These infrastructure proposals are shaping up to be similar, as the Republican group is preparing to unveil an infrastructure bill likely worth $600 billion to $800 billion, much smaller than Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan.

The bloc includes Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

Here are some emerging outlines of the plan, based on comments from those Republican lawmakers:

  • $600 billion to $800 billion price tag.
  • Focused on roads, bridges, highways, airports, water and broadband.
  • May double the spending on roads and bridges from Biden plan ($115 billion).
  • Financed with “user-fees” such as a tax on vehicle-miles traveled.
  • No corporate tax hikes.

Romney said told reporters the plan remained in its “early stages,” an indication many details still need to be hashed out. Yet the developments could lead to weeks of negotiations between the Republican-led group and the White House on a smaller infrastructure plan.

Capito on Wednesday said “a sweet spot” for an bipartisan infrastructure deal would range between $600 billion to $800 billion – less than half of the $2.3 trillion package Biden laid out.

“What I’d like to do is get back to what I consider the regular definition of infrastructure in terms of job creation. So that’s roads, bridges, ports, airports, including broadband into that, water infrastructure,” she told CNBC.

‘The people who are using it’ should pay for infrastructure

Other Republicans say they would back shifting the cost of the package from large companies onto the “users” who benefit from government spending. Many are strongly opposed to reversing the Trump tax law to pay for an infrastructure overhaul.

“My own view is that the pay-for ought to come from people who are using it. So if its an airport, the people who are flying,” Romney told reporters. “If it’s a port, the people who are shipping into the port; if it’s a rail system, the people who are using the rails; If it’s highways, it ought to be gas if it’s a gasoline powered vehicle.”

Romney also said he supports implementing a mileage fee on drivers of electric vehicles. Then Capito suggested redirecting unused stimulus money to pay for an infrastructure plan among other measures.

“We’re going to look at Vehicle Miles Traveled as a possibility when you look at fleets or when you look at electric vehicles. We’re going to look at assessing electric vehicles for road usage even though they don’t pay into the gas tax,” she said.

Meanwhile, Cassidy is pushing for an even bigger federal commitment to repair roads and bridges.

“Something I would like to see is double the money for roads and bridges,” he said Wednesday, adding he was in talks on a plan alongside Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, the head of the National Governors Association.

News of the Republican plan triggered some early criticism from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who heads the Senate Budget Committee.

“We have a major crisis in terms of roads, bridges, water systems, affordable housing, you name it. [The GOP price tag] is nowhere near what we need,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

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John Boehner said he skewered Ted Cruz in his book because Cruz was ‘stirring up some of the crazies in my own caucus’

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in 2017.

  • Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner doubled down on his criticism of Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday.
  • Boehner said he “zeroed in” on Cruz because the senator was “stirring up some of the crazies in my own caucus.”
  • The former speaker even added in the audiobook of his memoir: “PS, Ted Cruz, go f— yourself.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner doubled down on his criticism of Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, on Monday.

Boehner told CBS News that he singled Cruz out, calling him “dangerous” and a “reckless a–hole,” in his forthcoming book, “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” because Cruz had amplified divisions within the GOP House caucus.

“This guy wasn’t even a member of the United States House of Representatives, he was a member of the Senate, stirring up some of the crazies in my own caucus to cause all kinds of problems,” Boehner said of Cruz during a Monday morning interview. “And that’s probably why I zeroed in on him – probably the only person in this book – in the way that I did.”

He added, “As I say in the book, there’s nothing worse than a reckless jackass who thinks he’s smarter than everybody else.”

Boehner writes that Cruz was the “head lunatic” leading “the chaos caucus in the House” of Tea Party members and right-wingers more focused on appearing on right-wing media and escalating “outrage” news cycles to drive campaign donations than passing legislation in Washington. In the audiobook of his memoir, Boehner added an unscripted, “PS, Ted Cruz, go f— yourself.”

In a tweet responding to Boehner’s criticism last week, Cruz called the former Speaker “the Swamp” and said he’s proud to receive his “drunken, bloviated scorn.”

The Ohio Republican, who’s also a sharp critic of former President Donald Trump, paints himself as an establishment Republican looking to find common ground with Democrats and get things done on policy. He criticizes multiple high-profile right-wing lawmakers, calling Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio a “political terrorist” and former Rep. Michele Bachmann a “lunatic.”

But Boehner, who served as speaker from 2011-2015, was overpowered by more right-wing forces in his party and is now out of step with a voter base that remains deeply loyal to Trump and more focused on culture wars than policy change.

Boehner has repeatedly taken aim at Cruz since leaving office. In 2016, he called the senator “Lucifer in the flesh” and told an audience that he’d “never worked with a more miserable son of a b—- in my life.”

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Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner says he doesn’t think Ronald Reagan could get elected in today’s Republican Party

john boehner
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, speaks following the weekly House Republican Conference meeting as House Majority Leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy,R-CA, looks on at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 7, 2015.

  • John Boehner said he doesn’t think he could get elected in today’s GOP, the Washington Post reported.
  • “I don’t think Ronald Reagan could either,” Boehner wrote in his new book.
  • The former House speaker’s tell-all memoir is set to be released Tuesday.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former House Speaker John Boehner wrote in his new memoir that the Republican Party has taken a stark turn since his time in politics, according to an excerpt reported by the Washington Post on Friday.

“I don’t even think I could get elected in today’s Republican Party anyway,” Boehner wrote. “I don’t think Ronald Reagan could either.”

Boehner, who represented Ohio’s 8th Congressional district from 1991 to 2015, is set to release a tell-all memoir of his life on the hill, titled “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” on Tuesday.

Boehner served as the speaker of the House from 2011 until 2015, when he resigned from the role after facing opposition from within the GOP.

Read more: Introducing Todd Young, the most important senator you’ve never heard of

Excerpts of the book that have been released reveal harsh words for former President Donald Trump, the de facto leader of the party Boehner was once a leader in himself.

About the Capitol riot on January 6, Boehner wrote Trump “incited that bloody insurrection for nothing more than selfish reasons, perpetuated by the bullshit he’d been shoveling since he lost a fair election the previous November,” according to an excerpt obtained by the New York Times.

Boehner said watching the Capitol siege was “scary, and sad.”

“It should have been a wake-up call for a return to Republican sanity,” he wrote. “Whatever they end up doing, or not doing, none of it will compare to one of the lowest points of American democracy that we lived through in January 2021.”

Boehner also had exceptionally harsh words for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another influential figure in today’s GOP.

In an excerpt of the book that was reported by Politico, Boehner wrote: “And now they had a new head lunatic leading the way, who wasn’t even a House member. There is nothing more dangerous than a reckless a–hole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Senator Ted Cruz.”

Axios reported Boehner also went off-script at one point when recording the audio version of his memoir, adding: “Oh, and Ted Cruz, go f— yourself.”

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at

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POLL: Most Americans who care about the filibuster don’t like it and want it changed

ted cruz filibuster
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex.

  • We asked Americans what they think about the Senate filibuster.
  • The parliamentary rule designed to delay bills for debate has been a source of heated contention.
  • Most respondents said they don’t have an opinion, but most of those who do want it changed.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For all of the attention the Senate filibuster gets inside the beltway and in political journalism, many Americans don’t really care about it, a new Insider poll found.

The most consensus we got when we asked 1,117 people about their views on the procedure was 36% saying they don’t have a strong opinion about it.

The poll, conducted in late March, asked respondents their view on the filibuster. They were presented with the following options and asked which best describes their view:

  • I think the Senate needs to abolish the filibuster entirely (20%)
  • I think the Senate should require a “talking” filibuster, where Senators must remain on the floor to delay a bill (21%)
  • I think the current filibuster rules are fine as is (17%)
  • I think the filibuster should be expanded back to include judicial nominations (5%)
  • I don’t have a strong feeling about the filibuster (36%)

After the 36% who said they don’t care about the filibuster, the next most common response was 21% saying they’d like the Senate to require a “talking” filibuster, where senators would have to physically stand on the Senate floor and speak for as long as they can to delay a bill. Currently, a full blown floor speech is not required.

Under the current rule, at least 60 senators need to invoke “cloture” by voting to bring debate to a halt and move on.

Another 20% said they want the Senate to abolish the filibuster entirely.

Just 17% said they think the rule is “fine as is.”

The least common response was “I think the filibuster should be expanded back to include judicial nominations,” which only got 5%. Back in 2013, Senate Democrats chose the “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster for cabinet and judicial nominations, with the exception of the Supreme Court.

In 2015, Republicans invoked their own “nuclear option” by removing the Supreme Court exception to push through the nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Among respondents, 36% said they would likely take part in their state’s Democratic primary in 2024, compared to 31% who said they would likely take part in their state’s Republican primary.

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Polling data collected 1,129 respondents March 27-28, 2021 with a 3 percentage point margin of error.

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Joe Manchin signals he could torpedo Democratic attempts to bypass Republicans multiple times in a year

Joe Manchin
In this Feb. 13, 2021, file photo Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., departs on Capitol Hill in Washington

  • Manchin suggested he may thwart Democratic attempts to bypass Republicans in Congress more than once.
  • “I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate,” Manchin wrote in a Post op-ed.
  • It comes as the White House weighs the path ahead for a massive infrastructure plan.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia suggested he could derail Democratic attempts to circumvent Republicans more than once this year, arguing that embarking on the path would be harmful to the nation’s future.

“We should all be alarmed at how the budget reconciliation process is being used by both parties to stifle debate around the major issues facing our country today,” the influential Democrat said in a Washington Post op-ed published on Wednesday evening.

Manchin said that drafting bills was “never supposed to be easy,” adding it was important to address the needs of both rural areas and urban communities in the months ahead.

“I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate,” Manchin wrote. “How is that good for the future of this nation?”

Manchin was referring to a tactic Democrats employed earlier this year to approve a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package without securing any Republican votes. It comes as a top Senate official delivered a ruling on Monday that may provide Democrats an opening to bypass the GOP at least twice more this year.

Read more: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

Reconciliation is governed with a strict set of rules aimed at ensuring measures are closely related to the federal budget. Using it allows Democrats to pass bills with a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate and avoid the usual 60-vote threshold.

The White House is starting to sell its $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which includes major funding for roads and bridges, broadband, and in-home elder care among other measures.

The Biden administration outlined a corporate tax plan on Wednesday. It includes a corporate tax increase from 21% to 28%, a step amounting to a partial repeal of President Donald Trump’s tax cuts. Republicans are staunchly opposed to the business tax hikes.

That proposed tax increase recently triggered opposition from Manchin, who said last week he favored a 25% corporate rate instead. The opposition of a single Democratic senator could block the entire passage from clearing the upper chamber.

The dynamic makes Manchin a powerful figure in the Senate. Last month, he forced last-minute changes to unemployment provisions of the stimulus law, delaying votes for almost 11 hours.

Biden said on Wednesday he was open to compromise on a lower rate, though he stressed the need to pay for the plan. “I’m wide open, but we got to pay for this. I am willing to negotiate that,” he said.

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Big win for Democrats: Senate parliamentarian to allow additional legislation to bypass potential GOP filibuster

Chuck Schumer
The Democratic-majority Senate, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, will help to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees and to enact his agenda.

The Senate parliamentarian on Monday cleared the way for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to use reconciliation to pass additional pieces of legislation, allowing them to bypass a potential GOP filibuster, Schumer’s office said. The legislation can pass with standard majority votes, instead of two-thirds majority support in the Senate.

This could have implications for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package.

The move means that Schumer can pass Biden’s $2.25 trillion jobs and infrastructure package through a revision of the 2021 Budget Resolution, a process that can also be used to pass the second half of the package, The Hill reported.

Schumer’s spokesperson said that the development, “allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues.”

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough issued the opinion on Friday, which means that Democrats can also work to pass the infrastructure bills without immediately trying to end the filibuster.

The move to revisit the 2021 Budget Resolution could also spur additional opportunities to vote on budget-related legislation using the simple-majority votes, which Vice President Kamala Harris holds a tiebreaking vote for.

This story is breaking. Check back for updates.

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I came to the US when I was only 2 years old. Without action from Congress, I could be deported to a country I’ve never known.

Karen Reyes
  • There are 2.1 million Dreamers in this country.
  • Dreamers should not have to live in uncertainty.
  • DACA recipients are calling on lawmakers to pass the American Dream and Promise Act.
  • Karen Reyes came to the US when she was two years old. She now lives in Austin, Texas, and works as a special education teacher.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I am a DACA recipient. I am one of 2.1 million Dreamers in this country. While we share many of the same concerns, we are not the same. We are all unique in our experiences, stories, and jobs. Some of us are health care workers on the frontlines fighting the coronavirus, some of us are in the food service industry, and some of us are teachers. But there are two things we hold in common: the love we have for the only country we have called home, and the fear of us being taken from it. While DACA has given us some protection against deportations, the last four years have shown us that the threat of being removed from this country is still there.

With the American Dream and Promise Act having just passed the House, and a president ready and willing to sign it, the end to that constant worry feels closer than ever.

If this bill is signed into law, it will allow undocumented immigrants or Dreamers brought to the US as children to earn permanent resident status and eventual citizenship. It also includes a path to citizenship for at least 300,000 people with temporary protected status or Deferred Enforced Departure. There is harmful anti-immigrant rhetoric that flourished under the Trump administration, and there is a case in Texas challenging the legality of the program. But this bill says Dreamers are here to say.

For many years, Dreamers have lived in a state of anxiety. We have lived with worries about the fate of DACA, whether we’ll be deported, and whether our families will be protected. Under the Biden Administration, DACA recipients have been given some sense of relief, but if the American Dream and Promise Act does not pass the Senate, Dreamers like me will continue to live in uncertainty.

I came to the US when I was two years old in 1991 with my mom. We settled in San Antonio, where I grew up. Like many Dreamers, I didn’t know I was undocumented, but there were clues about my status. My mom was wary of police officers and traveling, for instance. I found out that I was undocumented when my mom told me I couldn’t take part on a trip to the Mexico border with my high school friends because I didn’t have “papers.” A few years later, I got my undergraduate degree in education and planned to become a teacher.

I started graduate school in 2012 but questioned whether I would be able to work as an educator. Then, a couple of weeks later, DACA was announced. I was driving home from picking up a textbook, and my mom called and told me that President Obama had announced that immigrants who came to this country at a young age and have no ties to their country of origin may remain in the US and work without fear of deportation. We both cried on the phone. It meant that I could work in the field that I love, drive without fear, and live without the threat of deportation.

The Biden administration is a welcome relief after years of attacks on our immigrant community. Many undocumented folks experience wage theft – being underpaid, or exploited for their labor – food insecurity, and financial insecurity because they don’t qualify for stimulus checks and other forms of government assistance.

The Dream Act is a way to provide a pathway toward citizenship for millions of Dreamers, who many elected officials say they support. But I’ve learned that you can’t just hope for things to change. Dreamers like me will continue to fight for all immigrants, but now is the time for the Senate to finally take this major first step, and pass the American Dream and Promise Act.

Karen Reyes is a special education teacher in Austin, Texas. Reyes joined her union, AFT, in a lawsuit by the NAACP against Trump over DACA filed in 2018.

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It’s about time for Congress to pay its interns a fair wage – it could help introduce some much-needed diversity on the Hill

congressional interns
Congressional interns wait in line before a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

  • In March, Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott introduced a bipartisan bill that would create a paid internship program at the US Department of State.
  • Unpaid internships limit the pool of applicants who can afford to gain this valuable experience.
  • Creating paid government internship programs will increase socioeconomic diversity in American leadership.
  • Amanda Silberling is a writer and activist based in Philadelphia.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

Currently, there is no legislation mandating that government interns receive pay. But there should be. Paying federal interns a fair wage is not only the right thing to do, but it could also diversify the halls of government.

While Congress recently started paying interns, the caps on pay are still low compared to the cost of living in the nation’s capital, preventing many students from applying.Last summer, Rep. Tony Cárdenas pointed out that there are 1,110 senior staff positions on Capitol Hill, but only 152 people in those positions are Black, indigineous, people of color (BIPOC). This is a systemic problem that starts when our government limits who can afford to intern on the Hill.

And the issue isn’t just limited to Congress, many other parts of the government are lacking when it comes to intern pay. In March, Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott introduced the Department of State Student Internship Program Act, a bipartisan bill that would pay State Department interns a minimum wage. Students would also be provided housing and money for travel if they don’t live within 50 miles of their workplace. This is incredibly promising, yet long overdue.

In a press release to introduce the legislation, Sen. Booker’s office wrote that “for years, the State Department has struggled to recruit people of color.” A primary goal for this paid internship program is to make government hiring more equitable, and that starts from the most junior positions.

Barrier of entry

“At intern mixers, it was overwhelmingly white, and overwhelmingly people who went to DC schools,” remembers Chris Bohórquez, who was an unpaid intern for Rep. Bill Pascrell in 2015. “It was the same kind of experience that I had [as a student at George Washington University], that it was traditionally white, traditionally affluent, and I was very much in the minority of every environment I was in.”

An internship in government is the first step toward a career in public service. While congressional internships offer stipends capped at $1,800 a month, other internships in the federal government only offer college credit. Still, a recent report by Pay Our Interns found that the average total stipend per intern was $1,986.75 in the Senate and $1,612.53 in the House, which isn’t a living wage for multiple months of work. Plus, even though more congressional interns are receiving pay, over 76% of those interns are white, revealing that congressional internship classes are still lacking in diversity. Offering hourly wages, housing, and targeted outreach to underrepresented students could help change that.

Paid or unpaid, the low amounts of support make internships impossible for many students – especially those without familial wealth, who need to earn a reliable paycheck to afford rent, food, and tuition.

A 2018 study from Georgetown University found that eight out of 10 students now work a job while they’re in college. But low-income students are more likely to work paid jobs in retail or customer service, rather than unpaid internships like those offered in DC. By graduation, students who lack industry-specific skills they would’ve gained in an unpaid internship are less competitive applicants for entry-level government jobs.

After paying for housing, food, and transportation, internships can cost interns about $6,000. When employers offer college credit in exchange for their unpaid interns’ service, it can actually worsen the financial strain of working for free. After all, tuition is expensive, and those extra credits cost money. But as the job market becomes more and more competitive, internships are essential to getting a foot in the door, especially in politics.

To afford his unpaid internship, Bohórquez saved money from his work-study job. Then, he arranged all of his classes to be on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so that he could intern from 9 to 5 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

“That was the culture and expectation, that in order to get a good job out of college, you had to bust your butt working unpaid internships,” said Bohórquez. “As a first-generation student, I assumed this was normal.”

Now, Bohórquez runs the paid internship program at Invariant, a public affairs firm in DC.

All students deserve compensation for their labor, yet in government, the lack of legislation to guarantee interns’ pay is particularly disturbing. In order for our government to adequately serve the needs of the American people, we need diverse representation in positions of power. The Department of State Student Internship Program Act would be an invaluable start toward leveling the economic playing field, but we need to extend the precedent for paying interns to all government offices.

In 2018, the nonprofit Pay Our Interns worked with bipartisan legislators to secure $13.8 million in funding for interns in the Senate and the House. Despite these massive steps forward, many internships remain unpaid. Pay Our Interns advised Sens. Booker and Scott on their bill, which is a companion to legislation that Representative Joaquin Castro introduced in the House.

Carlos Mark Vera, the Executive Director of Pay Our Interns, says that per the State Department bill, agencies will be required to do intentional outreach to minority-serving institutions and report who their internship programs served.

“Because of COVID-19, this is more timely and necessary than ever,” Vera says. “Last year, summer jobs and internships were wiped away. We’re losing a whole generation.”

One of the most common arguments against creating paid internship programs is that government budgets are already stretched too thin. When hundreds of qualified applicants apply for existing unpaid roles, there’s little incentive to change anything. But promoting equity and diversity in all levels of government should be incentive enough.

“I think it’s a priority and values issue more than [a] money [issue]. The Department of Education spent over $8 million just on a security detail for former Secretary Betsy DeVos,” says Vera. “So don’t tell me, you know, there isn’t $3 or $4 million there to pay interns. It simply is not the case.”

If only the most wealthy, privileged students can intern on the Hill without significant stain, then our government will continue to fail to reflect the diversity of our country.

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