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Victoria Sorhegui | 2019 Summer Fellow


Victoria SorheguiWeek 6: Final Thoughts
July 21, 2019

As my time in D.C. this summer comes to a close, I’ve found myself in constant reflection of my time on the Hill and generally within the city. My last week was very bittersweet—I was excited to have completed 5 weeks of meaningful work and was happy to have learned every single day, however, I was also sad to no longer be a part of the excitement that is politics and government. I attended a number of stimulating senate committee hearings my last week on the Hill and spent a great deal of time exploring the Capitol building for the last time. Although I wish I could have spent more time working for Senator Burr, my time on the Hill was a very stimulating and fulfilling experience.

Senate Committee Hearings

I spent my last weeks in D.C. in attendance at a number of fascinating hearings, including the Mueller hearing, a response to the emergency sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, the future of space exploration, and protecting innocence in a digital world.

I found the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the use of emergency authorities under the Arms Export Control Act to be one of the most thought-provoking discussions I have been in attendance of during my time on the Hill. During this hearing, I saw both Republicans and Democrats unite in opposition of the administration and state department’s emergency sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in response to growing threats from Iran within the Middle East region. Clarke Cooper, Asst. Secretary of political-military affairs at the Department of State, testified during this hearing, and stated that the shifting and strengthening threat landscape within the Middle East caused by the aggressive actions of the Iranian regime necessitated an emergency declaration. However, senators from both sides of the aisle disagreed with the imminence of this threat. The Arms Export Control Act necessitates the president to inform Congress of any sale of arms and gives Congress up to 30 days to assess the sale. At the time of the hearing, it had been 47 days since the emergency sale was declared and no delivery of arms had been made to either country, proving that it was not an imminent emergency that compelled the administration to bypass the oversight role that Congress plays in arms sales. Senator Ted Cruz was specific in his support of the substance of the decision due to the threat that Iran poses on Saudi Arabia, however, questioned the process as it circumvented the law, in his opinion. He further stated the problematic and unreliable nature of Saudi Arabia as an ally due to its involvement in humanitarian atrocities and other moral concerns. This further prompted bipartisan consensus within the committee in opposition to the sale. This emergency declaration may set a dangerous precedent in the future as it may cause Congress to decrease presidential powers in future emergency arms sales declarations.

In light of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, I attended a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on NASA’s exploration plans for the next 50 years. Attending this hearing was a little more out of my comfort zone than my usual attendance at hearings related to foreign relations or security issues, but it was equally captivating as I learned about a topic that seems so unknown to the world. I was so inspired to hear senators, authors, and NASA employees discuss the future of space exploration and its seemingly endless possibilities. The new space mission, Artemis, will use both private and public resources to send our astronauts to the moon again by 2024 and is also planning to explore the possibility of sending life to Mars. The 50th anniversary of the moon-landing also prompted the creation of a powerful 17-minute film about Apollo 11 and its subsequent missions that was projected onto the Washington Monument the night of the anniversary for thousands to see.

I also attended a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on protecting the innocence of children in our digital age. This hearing discussed the potential dangers that social media plays in the sexual exploitation of children by predators, and how private corporations and the government can work to prevent this behavior. Numerous ideas were discussed from content regulation through the imposition of parental controls on social media sites like snapchat and Instagram to stronger rules enforced by social media sites themselves regarding content that can be posted. As an Instagram user myself, I found it disheartening to learn that the app is currently the leading platform for child grooming by sexual predators. The hyper-sexualized content that can be posted on this platform, as well as snapchat, proves dangerous to the young population that tends to use these apps. The necessity to create a culture of responsibility and empowerment online, as well as a shift from blocking to monitoring was expressed as a move in the right direction. It will be interesting to see the oversight role the government might play in the future of child protections online.

Hidden Treasures of the Capitol

As I’ve stated a number of times throughout my blog, as an intern on the Hill, there are a number of perks we receive in terms of unlimited exploration throughout the Capitol. On my last day in office, a junior staffer in Senator Burr’s office took my group of interns to explore one last time.

To begin, the Capitol building’s purpose was not only to house the U.S. government but was also intended to be the burial site of President Washington. A tomb under the crypt was included in the original design of the Capitol in 1793 and continued to be built for President Washington before he died. However, President Washington is buried in Mt. Vernon, VA and not in the Capitol—the tomb, in fact, is still empty. (Fun fact: President Woodrow Wilson is the only president to be buried in Washington D.C. and he is buried in the National Cathedral Cemetery). This is because President Washington specifically stated in his will that he did not want to be buried and on display in the Capitol. This choice only further showcases the compassionate and humble leader George Washington was and his personal dislike of power and attention. I was lucky enough to visit the empty tomb and see the place where our first president was meant to be buried.

Another interesting place I visited on my last day were the Capitol baths, which are essentially two Romanesque, marble bathtubs sitting in the basement of the Capitol building. Found in the 1930s, it is believed that in the 1800s, Senators and staffers would bathe in these bathtubs before they were installed in private homes. The purpose and use of these bathtubs were a mystery for years after they were discovered as no one could recall a time in which these were in commission and on view. Now hidden in the basement, surrounded by electrical equipment and air conditioning units, the marble bathtubs are out of commission and instead are a fun venue for photos and a little bit of mystery.

Major Takeaways

Working on the Hill not only brought me constant excitement and captivation in the world of politics and the government, but I also felt a sense of meaning and importance behind my work. Although I was only an intern, I truly believe that my few hours daily spent communicating with constituents, whether it was over the phone or during a tour, were essential in the function of our government. And don’t get me wrong, working in the bureaucracy that is Capitol Hill showed me first hand the gaps and inefficiencies of the political world, but it also gave me hope in the future of our country. I witnessed few, yet very powerful moments of bipartisanship and also saw a common passion of wanting to better our country within each office. I feel so blessed to have had this incredible opportunity to work for a Senator that I genuinely respect and to have experienced first-hand the unique processes that occur within the government. I’m excited to find myself back in our beautiful Capitol sometime very soon.

Other Thoughts

I not only spent my time in D.C. engrossed in the political atmosphere of the city, but I also attempted to engage in the art and museum sector of the city. I spent many afternoons perusing through the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Gallery of Art, both free and on the National Mall. My appreciation and love for art only grew as I saw works from Degas, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Pollack, Mondrian, Matisse, and Warhol just to name a few.

Restaurant recommendations: Unconventional Diner, Bluestone Lane, Founding Famers (again because it’s just so good)

Week 5: A Capitol Fourth
July 7, 2019

Spending the 4th of July in D.C. is unlike any other Independence Day celebration. At the earliest hours of the morning, I began to see families and groups of friends trekking to the National Mall, making sure to get a good spot for President Trump’s Salute to America, the annual Capitol Fourth concert hosted by John Stamos, and the fireworks show. The streets were lined with both Americans and tourists sporting red, white, and blue attire, blockades of military vehicles for safety, as well as protesters of the celebration.

I was lucky enough to have received a ticket to President Trump’s Salute to America event through my office on the Hill, placing me in the reserved area at the reflecting pool directly in front of the Lincoln Memorial. This alone was an incredible experience as I stood alongside patriotic Americans awaiting the President’s speech as well as an incredible show of fireworks. We stood through scattered rain showers and eventually the Vice President, Second Lady, First Lady, and President joined us at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate our day of independence.

I was surprised and impressed with the speech our President gave that evening. He successfully avoided any mention of politics or his reelection and focused solely on the U.S. and the many accomplishments we have made as a country beginning in 1776.

He began with a brief mention of American history from the American Revolution to the abolition of slavery and from the women’s suffragist movement to the Apollo 11 moon landing. He praised a number of American heroes from Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, to Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb. He also identified a number of current American heroes sitting in the audience, praising their military, medical, and altruistic achievements. President Trump stated that as Americans, we “share the same heroes, home, and heart” and that the fearless resolve of Americans has inspired numerous American heroes to push the bounds of society and make a difference. He instilled this patriotic spirit among listeners and convinced us of our boundless ability to create, inspire, and lead the world in achievement and progress. The president identified our growth as a nation to date, while also discussing our necessity for greater evolution to become the nation we desire to be. He concluded his praise of America with a tribute to each branch of the military: Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps. He discussed accomplishments of each branch since their establishment and completed each recognition with a flyover of key airplanes and helicopters of each respective branch. This alone gave me chills as I watched in awe at the mere size and impressive design of the military vehicles.

The night continued with the Capitol Fourth concert hosted by John Stamos. He was joined onstage with numerous performers, including Kaela Settle, Sesame Street, Vanessa Carleton, Angelica Hale, and MusiCorps to name a few. This 90-minute “birthday party” was screened all across the National Mall and throughout the entire country. It was followed by a beautiful firework show behind the Lincoln Memorial. This magnificent show was truly breathtaking as it lit up the entire D.C. sky with glittering lights and sparkles and was accompanied by instrumental music. The entire night sparked a feeling of unity within the city that was refreshing in our current political climate.

Other Thoughts

During the long holiday weekend, I also got the chance to visit the Newseum. What I thought would be a short afternoon visit turned into four hours of perusing each exhibit and its contents. I spent much time in the 9/11 Gallery, carefully examining the timeline of events from that day as well as browsing over the front-page of global newspapers the day after the attack. This gallery included a 12-minute-long video praising the journalists that captured the events of 9/11 on film and the great risks they took to capture this footage. The “Inside Today’s FBI” exhibit was also quite interesting, as well as the Berlin Wall Gallery. Additionally, the Bloomberg Internet, TV, and Radio Gallery was also incredibly enlightening as I read about the progression of news broadcasts from FDR’s Fireside Chats during the Great Depression to our current use of Twitter. The First Dogs exhibit was one of the sweetest exhibits I’ve come across out of all the museums I’ve visited thus far. If you have yet to visit the Newseum, I would recommend planning a visit soon because it is sadly closing at the end of the year.

Restaurant Recommendation: Farmers Fishers Bakers

Week 4: Hearings, Baseball, and the Gettysburg Campaign
June 30, 2019

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing on the Exploitation of Migrants at the Southern Border

This week I attended the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s hearing on the exploitation of migrants at the southern border through smuggling and trafficking. With all of the current conversation and concerns regarding the southern border and living conditions of the provided facilities, I hoped that attending this hearing would educate me on the issue directly from border patrol and homeland security agents working at the border—and it did.

Before this hearing, I was unaware of the concerning amount of smuggling and human trafficking that occurs at the border. It was described that many individuals attempting to cross the border illegally will seek out smugglers to help them cross, willing to pay any price to eventually end up in America. However, oftentimes these vulnerable individuals desperate for opportunity in the U.S. are taken advantage of and forced to sell themselves to human traffickers, whether it’s through sex trafficking, being forced to sell their children, or forced labor. Furthermore, it was stated that throughout Central America, “if you bring a child with you, you will be set free at the border.” This statement alone describes the dangers that face children as they make the dangerous journey to the border, and sometimes with adults who they have no relationship with. This deeply saddening truth though can’t be addressed until many of the current humanitarian crises at the border are fixed.

A number of Senators shared their concerns with the overwhelming number of migrants entering the facilities at the border daily. I learned that these facilities were not designed to support the increasing number of migrants that are making the dangerous journey to the U.S. and that the facilities are also not equipped to support children for the lengthy number of days they currently live in these facilities. There are only a number of solutions that can fix this problem: increase the budget of border control to provide migrants with necessary resources at these facilities and decrease the amount of time needed to vet these individuals or work with governments of countries in Central America to provide incentives against making the dangerous journey to the U.S. until the vetting process is already completed. This crisis will continue to occur if Congress isn’t able to come to a consensus on how to solve the problem. It is imperative that we see a bipartisan effort in the very near future to address the overwhelming crises at our southern border.

Congressional Baseball Game

This week I was lucky enough to have attended the Congressional baseball game. It was my first time in attendance, and it was quite the social event. Although the Republicans lost to the Democrats with a final score of 14-7, it was still so fun to watch our lawmakers showcase their athletic skills, or lack there-of, through America’s favorite pastime. I described the event as probably one of the most American events I’ve ever attended. Republicans were given red towels and flags to wave in the air during the game and Democrats were given blue. It was so refreshing to see the two sides unite when everyone stood in solidarity as the national anthem played before the game, however, after the first pitch, the true rivalry was exposed. It was such a wonderful experience to see Congressman Scalise play for the first time since the tragic shooting back in 2017. He received a standing ovation from the Republicans as they called out his name to be first batter.

After a couple of innings, it was clear that the audience was more entertained and impressed by the puppies catching frisbees between innings than the actual game itself. I was surprised and amused to hear the amount of time that each team put into practicing for this game and I think it’s one of the most fun Congressional traditions. If you’ve never attended one of these games and ever find yourself in D.C. for it, I would 100% recommend going and supporting your party.

Meeting with Senator Burr

As an intern in Senator Burr’s office, this past week we were given the incredible opportunity to sit down with the Senator, hear his advice, and ask him a number of questions. Although I won’t go into the details of our conversation in this blog, I will share the massive amount of respect I have for Senator Burr and his work in politics. His actions in the Senate have proved his ability to work across the aisle in a productive and bipartisan manner and have greatly showcased his values. He shared with us a number of important messages and life advice that I will continue to carry with me and consider as I make life decisions. I couldn’t be more honored to work in his office.

Gettysburg Staff-Ride with AHS

This week I also joined the Alexander Hamilton Society on a staff-ride to Gettysburg, PA. Led by Dr. Thomas Keaney, senior professor at SAIS and senior fellow at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, I joined a group of AHS students from a number of universities around the country to learn about the Gettysburg Campaign of the Civil War. During the staff-ride, each individual took on the role of a different General or politician who played an essential role in this three-day battle. At each stop, a different group of Generals was assigned to give a monologue stating who they were, giving a brief biography of their life and prior military experience as well as describing their decision-making processes and strategic plans at the battle, all in first-person.

This mode of learning allows you to truly think and consider the decisions that were made during this battle as the individual who made the decisions. It allows you to empathize with the leaders and soldiers who fought, as you gain a better understanding of the lack of communication, intelligence, and technology, and better grasp the distance between battlegrounds. During the staff-ride I played the role of General Early, who served under General Ewell on the Confederate side during this battle.

Other Thoughts

This week was full of incredible learning opportunities and enjoyable moments of exploration. In addition to the exciting experiences I described above, I observed the Senate pass a bill for the first time this week. Sitting in the staff gallery as the Senate roll call occurred and as senators placed their votes on the NDAA for 2020 was an amazing thing to witness. It was so amazing to watch the senators interact with each other and chat amongst themselves.

Restaurant recommendation: Baked and Wired (cupcakes and coffee shop), Kramerbooks and Afterword Cafe (book store/restaurant)

Week 3: The nomination hearing of Kelly Craft to be U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and meeting Senator Rubio
June 22, 2019

My second week on the Hill included witnessing and taking notes on the nomination hearing of Kelly Craft to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, checking off my summer bucket list item of introducing myself to Senator Rubio, and of course leading Capitol tours.

Ambassador Craft’s Nomination Hearing

Sitting in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee room taking notes on Ambassador Craft’s nomination hearing has probably been one of the most memorable moments of my time on the Hill thus far. Senator Mitch McConnell introduced the Ambassador to the committee, speaking so highly of her character and job experiences and giving his full support of the nomination. Kelly Craft currently holds the position of U.S. Ambassador to Canada and played an essential role in the USMCA negotiations. Listening to the questions of the Senators on the committee from Senator Cruz to Chairman Risch to Senator Menendez to Senator Graham, it was clear what the senators believed was most imperative to this position.

They emphasized the necessity of upholding American values, providing humanitarian support, being present at the U.N, and representing the American people. It was fascinating to listen to the nominee discuss women’s health issues around the globe and addressing climate change as some of her greatest priorities in this position. It was also interesting to consider some of our more challenging foreign policy situations including our ongoing wars in the Middle East, recent skirmishes with North Korea, and the very current situation with Iran. Being given the chance to learn from these hearings and provide staffers within Senator Burr’s office with memos on my attendance at such hearings has been an incredible learning experience.

Meeting Senator Rubio

Although I’m interning for Senator Burr of NC and am absolutely loving every second of it, it has been a dream of mine to introduce myself to Senator Marco Rubio at some point this summer. As a Florida constituent and Cuban-American, having the chance to meet Senator Rubio has always been on my D.C. bucket list. Luckily, when I did end up running into the Senator, I had a fellow AGS member by my side who gave me a little push to introduce myself.

Being a Senate intern allows me to do some pretty cool things on the Hill—one of my favorites is being able to ride the underground trolley that connects all three Senate buildings and the Capitol building. I happened to be in the right place at the right time because this week I found myself standing next to Senator Rubio as we hopped off the trolley to the Capitol building. What I thought would be the scariest moment turned into one of the greatest experiences. It was great chatting to the Senator about who I was, where I study, and my desire to possibly work for him in the future.

Other Thoughts

I’m now two weeks into working on the Hill and am ready to continue networking with and learning from senators and staffers. I’m excited to be attending a number of hearings next week including a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on issues at our southern border as well as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on a number of business topics.

This week I also was able to attend the annual AGS Garden Party which brought together a number of current Duke students associated with the AGS program, alumni who participated during their years at Duke, as well as professors and friends. It included a wonderful evening of catching up with old friends, meeting alumni, and getting the chance to listen to some incredible stories.

This week I also decided to take advantage of living in the middle of D.C. a bit more than usual and explored some of the city. I spent hours in the National Museum of American History, National Portrait Gallery, and Renwick Gallery. I also scootered around the national mall to get a glimpse of all the national monuments with some fellow blue devils. Next week you’ll hopefully find me at the Congressional baseball game and at the Air and Space Museum!

Restaurant recommendation if you’re in D.C: Founding Farmers

Week 2: My First Week on the Hill
June 16, 2019

My first week on the Hill was both exciting and intellectually stimulating. It was full of interactions with constituents, moments wandering around the Capitol, and sitting in on Senate committee hearings to hear from our elected officials.

One of the greatest things about being a Hill intern, in my opinion, is our role in leading constituent tours of the Capitol building. Our ability as interns to educate constituents on a little piece of American history and share our love and passion of politics and government work is such an incredible blessing. In my first week, I learned the importance of these tours through the direct exposure and communication we have with constituents. This has taught me some of the greatest concerns and opinions of North Carolinians (and I’ve come to learn that most of them hate Duke). This has also given me the chance to wander around the smallest nooks and crevices of the Capitol building, exploring hidden hallways and offices.

As an intern, we not only get to lead tours, but we’re given the freedom to attend any open Senate or House committee hearing. The first Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing I attended discussed North Macedonia’s accession into NATO. In this hearing, I heard from a number of Senators including Senators Risch, Menendez, Romney, and Kaine all speaking in favor of North Macedonia’s desire to join NATO. It was the recommendation of the panel for the committee to allow North Macedonia’s accession into NATO due to some of its most recent choices, which includes fighting against Russia’s growing sphere of influence and assisting in a number of NATO activities and military training exercises. This hearing taught me a number of things about the senate. First, I learned that not all senators show up to their committee hearings and instead run in and out as they please. Second, I saw a moment of bipartisanship within this committee that gave me hope in our current political climate. Although party politics never truly disappear, it was refreshing to see senators from both the Republican and Democrat parties agree in the recent efforts of North Macedonia to become a part of the West and support the accession of North Macedonia into NATO.

Week 1: Hamilton National Institute
June 9, 2019

During my first week in D.C. I participated in the Alexander Hamilton Society’s Hamilton National Institute. This week-long academic seminar program introduced me to 14 students from a number of universities around the country, all of whom are interested in foreign, defense, and economic policy. This program aims to open students up to the foundations of the Hamiltonian worldview and begin to examine concepts about American global leadership and strategies.

Under the direction of Dr. Gabriel Scheinmann, the HNI program helped us explore the different aspects of strategic, defensive, and economic statecraft. The HNI program introduced us to a number of academics and leaders who played a role in crafting and analyzing the national strategies that we explored, through seminar-style lectures. We explored the concepts of American exceptionalism, war and politics, grand strategy, the American economic order, and the democratic world order during the week. The lectures and discussions were both stimulating and challenging, and I’m ready to continue to explore these concepts during my academic experience at Duke.

We were also lucky enough to hear directly from professionals including Professor Walter Russel Mead, General Petraeus, and Mr. Brent McIntosh to name a few. Through dinner and lunch discussions with these individuals, we gained practical knowledge of careers related to foreign, defense, and economic policy.

Duke and AGS alum Ryan Boone and Adam Lemon also joined us during the week in the creation of a War Simulation Game. This simulation was based around a crisis in East Asia, and I was lucky enough to play the role as Japan’s economic advisor. Through this simulation, I gained empathy for countries like Japan and South Korea as the United States continued to make decisions in their best interest, completely neglecting to consider what would be in the best interest of their allies. I developed a greater understanding of how the U.S. can use its power and capabilities to pursue its interests, and how reliant smaller powers are on the U.S.

Spending my first week in D.C. with the Alexander Hamilton Society allowed me to develop lasting friendships, reinforced my ambitions to work in the government, and sparked a new interest in concepts related to grand strategy. Through both formal and informal events, we explored D.C., consumed lots of caffeine, and networked daily. I’m excited to see where the next five weeks interning for Senator Burr take me!