My name is Zoe Johnston, and I am interning in Congressman Joe Courtney’s office. Representative Courtney is a Democrat, representing Connecticut ‘s Second Congressional District. I am thrilled to report on my once-in-a-lifetime experience in the United States Congress on the day of President Biden’s State of the Union address (SOTU).
A week prior to the address my office’s brilliant Staff Assistant, Sawyer McCrabb, asked me if I could do a private Capitol tour for the Congressman’s SOTU guest, Joe de la Cruz, who served as a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from 2017-2023 and his wife, Tammy. I was more than happy to take on this responsibility my first tour no less, and was excited to host such important guests.
Tuesday morning, SOTU day, arrives. At 10 am I met both guests outside the Rayburn House of Representatives office building, and we walked to the Capitol Visitors Center (CVC). I felt very important being admitted with a flash of my Congressional House ID. I gave them a full tour of the US Capitol and Joe even started a Facebook live while in the Rotunda and had me say hi to his followers.
At the conclusion of the tour, I took them to the Congressman’s office and from there the five of us (Congressman Courtney, Joe and Tammy de la Cruz, Press Secretary Patrick Cassidy) walked through the underground tunnels connecting the Rayburn building to the Capitol for media interviews. Tammy and I remained outside the media room. When former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walked past Tammy commented that her “one dream for today was to meet Nancy Pelosi”. I took her over to the elevator where Mrs. Pelosi was standing and we did indeed meet her. (see: picture). She was very sweet and gave Tammy a big hug while talking about gun violence, a topic close to Tammy’s heart. Later that afternoon, on our way to lunch, we saw former Speaker Pelosi again. She commented, “we meet again”. Tammy was ecstatic.
At the conclusion of the media interview more office staff joined us and we went to the House of Representatives Representative Dining Hall (which is only accessible to members of the House of Representatives, their staff, and guests) and enjoyed a fine dining experience.
While Congressman Courtney and Joe attended the SOTU address in the House of Representatives in the Capitol building, we watched it live in the Congressman’s office in the Rayburn building.
At 9 pm the Press Secretary and I headed over to the Capitol (!!!) where President Biden was giving his address to collect Congressman Courtney and Joe de la Cruz. While waiting for the speech to finish we ran into fellow Flinders intern Bridget Black with her office’s Press Secretary.
At the conclusion of the speech Patrick and I made our way through the area where all the attendees were leaving. This included all members of the House of Representatives, all members of the US Senate, the US Supreme Court, the senior military leaders of the United States, and all but one member of the Cabinet of the US national government, and most of the Diplomatic core. (One Cabinet member is kept in a secure location to ensure some continuity in the case of a disaster). And of course President Biden. This was particularly exciting; even for Patrick as this was his first time at the Capitol after a SOTU address, and he had been working in Congress for 8 years.
We felt very important as we walked brushing shoulders with a long list of amazing Senators, Representatives, and Supreme Court Justices (see: pictures I took of Bernie Sanders, and Cori Bush). This was an amazingly surreal experience, but I remained very professional as we walked through this crowd of very well-known men and women searching for the Congressman and his guests.
We could not find them so we to turned back to another area to see if guests in that section had left the room. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made that night because as we rounded the corner, President Joe Biden was coming off the Floor of the House of Representatives. It was so surreal to see and hear him. As you can see (picture) I was able to get quite close to him.
The President left at around 10:30pm and we returned to the Rayburn office where we did catch up with the Congressman, and his guests.
Patrick drove me home (the Congressional Apartments where we six Flinders interns are staying) at around 11:30pm. I stayed awake for more hours trying to process this remarkable day (Spoiler Alert: I still haven’t).
Thank you for reading!!!
Zoe Johnston with former Speaker for the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi
President Biden leaves the floor of the House of Representatives