A Day (or Two) in the Life of a Congressional Fellow

I have been asked what a typical day looks like as a Congressional Fellow, and the reality is that there is no such thing as a typical day.  Still, the question remains valid, so I’ve chosen two recent days that were admittedly a bit more crazy than usual but that give an idea of the breadth of my activities.  The writing and researching projects are especially infinite in their variety, but here are two days from last week according to my calendar and my email traffic.



Read the Washington Post before I left home

8:15 AM          Arrived at the office to be ready for an 8:30 meeting. Took a quick look at my mail and met the folks who were already waiting.

8:30 AM          Meeting.

I have found that the one aspect of my job for which I was woefully underprepared is interacting with the military.  I find that anyone in a dress uniform fairly reeks of competence, so I had to squelch my admiration for the handsome man with the indecipherable gold braid and colored squares of plastic on his chest and get down to business.  I have also accepted that sooner or later, I’m going to be called, “Ma’am.”

9:00 AM          Start in on the day’s email, especially the news briefs

Every morning, I get seven different email blasts with headlines and summaries of news in environment, energy, and technology.  I also receive a blast summary of clips from around the Rocky Mountain Region, and I get an email of press clips mentioning the Senator plus a round-up of articles from the press in Colorado.  Fortunately, these are spaced throughout the day, but I try to work through them steadily to keep up with developing issues.  I also get the four Capitol Hill newspapers delivered to my desk (The Hill, Roll Call, National Journal, and Politico), and I try to scan those at some point.

9:30 AM- ~ 11:00 AM   Hearing sponsored by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

I really wanted to attend this hearing since it was on a bill that I am expecting to handle for the office, and it was organized by a fellow Fellow. Unfortunately, my water bill had been introduced for consideration (known as being “on the floor”) so I really couldn’t get away.  Happily, the hearing was broadcast on Senate TV, so I could work and listen.  By paying attention to the speakers, I learned all the key background, issues, and controversies involved with the bill.

~ noon             Grab lunch and bring it back to my desk.  It’s one of those days.

12:30 PM        Team Environment Phone call

To make sure that the DC staff and the state staff are coordinated and are well-informed, we have weekly phone calls among the folks who deal with environmentally-related issues. These are separate from our full staff meetings on Monday since we discuss more details and more strategy for how we can be helpful.

1:30 PM          Meeting with a constituent

~ 2:10 PM       Head down to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry meeting room

2:30-4:00         Briefing on Forest Fires and Forestry

Because the Senator is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Forestry, our staff got to play a significant role in setting up this Ag Committee briefing.  The Senator came down and made some remarks to kick off the session, and then we had three really good speakers who talked about the science of forest fires, the challenges of limited resources, and the view from firefighters on the ground.  I had done just a small part of this work, but it was gratifying to have it all come together into an extremely informative session.

During the time I’ve spent at my desk today, I’ve been monitoring the Senate amendment tracker to see what amendments have been filed on my bill.  I’ve been transferring them into my own spreadsheet and including summaries so I have an idea of what each amendment does.  I know from the budget vote-a-rama that we won’t actually consider every amendment, so I’ve also been keeping an eye and ear on the Senate floor.  If Senators give speeches about particular amendments, those are more likely to come up for a vote.

I’m also waiting for notification of some kind of agreement on what votes we might be having today, and I’ve found that inevitably that doesn’t happen very early.

6:25 PM          We finally get the announcement of the probable amendments to be voted on for tomorrow, and I start writing vote recs for the three amendments

The following week, the Farm Bill is scheduled for a “mark up,” which is the committee amendment process, so my LA is simultaneously dealing with those issues.  I’m happy to be contributing to his sanity by handling the first pass on everything for my bill.

6:56 PM          Sent off a draft of the vote recommendation (“vote rec”) for the first amendment

7:17 PM          Sent off a draft of the vote rec for the second amendment on my list

7:26 PM          Sent off draft of the vote rec for the third amendment.

I haven’t gotten faster, there’s just less I could do on this one.  I’m good at summarizing the issue and often the pros and cons, but I don’t have the background to understand how this vote weaves in to the Senator’s entire voting record.  My LA is a master at that, though!

7:57 PM          I manage to leave just before my usual door from the building is closed for the night

9:46 PM          I check my Blackberry one last time. I’ve gotten a “Can you please find out first thing tomorrow” email from my LA, so I let him know I’m on top of it.

There were two receptions I had planned to go to in the evening that didn’t happen.  I also sent 62 emails over the course of the day.


I’m not sure if I got to read the Post before I left home or not.

In the unscheduled times, I worked on email, watching the amendment tracker, putting information into my own amendment tracker, and watched the floor.

8:30 AM          I arrived in the office and started working on yesterday’s tasks

9-10:00 AM    Colorado Coffee

Every Wednesday that the Senate is in session (and thus the Senator is in town), we host “Colorado Coffee.”  This is an opportunity for constituents to meet with the staff and to have some interaction with the Senator.  He stops by for half of the hour, usually gives a short speech, and then carries out a question and answer session where no topic is off limits.  During the half hour that the Senator is not present, the staff have been assigned to specific constituents so that the guests will speak to someone who is knowledgeable about their topic of discussion.  The interns are a vital part of this process since I often have multiple people to meet with, and the interns help me find those people and make sure that everyone gets attention.  It’s an exciting but exhausting event because I’m so hyper-focused on people.

10:00 AM        Constituent meeting

10:30 AM        Constituent meeting (this one got canceled, so I squeezed in time to call the Congressional Research Service with a question about an amendment topic)

11:00 AM        Constituent meeting

Noon               Trying to leave for lunch with my fellow Bennet Fellows, but I’m also trying to watch the floor. One Senator announces that he is withdrawing one of his two amendments, so there will only be two votes later.

12:15-12:45 PM          The Legislative Director agreed to watch the floor for a while, so I got lunch with my fellow Bennet Fellows. That is actually a rare treat for us, but our healthcare fellow was finishing up at the end of the week, and we wanted our own celebration.

1:00 PM          My LA returns from a meeting, and I was able to fill in him in that one less vote was expected. We actually hadn’t gotten a floor update email, which is unusual, so this was a valuable piece of intel.

~2:00 PM        Votes start on the floor

On one of the amendments, we decided to keep track of who voted which way.  That sounds easy, right?  After about 10 minutes if there is a break in the action, the Clerk reads the list of senators voting in the affirmative and senators voting in the negative.  It doesn’t sound like she is reading quickly, but it was a real challenge to keep up, even with an alphabetical list in front of me!

2:30 PM          I had planned to watch one of the appropriation hearings.  That didn’t happen.

2:48 PM          We get word that there are three more amendments in line for consideration, so that’s three new vote recs.  Sometimes it isn’t clear exactly why the issue in the amendment needs to be address, so I’ve learned to call the office that is offering the amendment and ask for a one-page summary, which they usually have on hand.  I have had numerous experiences with very friendly and competent staff from both sides of the aisle who are happy to help me.

So I wrote drafts of my three vote recs and continued to watch the floor for updates on what votes might be occurring that day.

5:30 PM          We get the word: We are voting at 5:45 on a completely different amendment that isn’t on the radar at all!  Ahhhhhhhh!   New vote rec!

5:35 PM          I send the five minutes of work I have to my LA

5:40 PM          The LA sends his work to the Legislative Director (LD) for the final check

5:42 PM          The LD sends the vote rec off to the Senator who goes to the floor and votes.

Oh, and the three vote recs I had worked on in the afternoon- they all got adopted by Unanimous Consent, so we didn’t need vote recs after all.

I sent 50 emails today.  Neither happy hour I was signed up for happened. I think I pooped out around 7 or 7:30 PM.


1 Comment

Filed under Work

One response to “A Day (or Two) in the Life of a Congressional Fellow

  1. Heather Pence

    I’m impressed that you’re able to contribute so much to the office! Although not surprised. 🙂

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