Josh Machin

Inside the US Senate

21 May 2013

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2013 American Australian Association-ANU Congressional Internship and Research Fellowship program places Australian honours and postgraduate students in the offices of United States Senators who serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with an adjunct appointment to a relevant think tank.

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Crawford School student Josh Machin writes about the three months he spent seeing the inner workings of the US Senate thanks to the American Australian Association-ANU Congressional Internship and Research Fellowship Program.

From January to March this year, I was fortunate enough to see the inside workings of the United States Senate, while interning in the Washington DC office of Senator Bob P. Casey, Jr., from Pennsylvania. Through the Program, I was placed in Senator Casey’s office to work on foreign policy and national security issues for three months.

Senator Casey is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and chairs the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs. His subcommittee has a broad remit and oversees US relations with a geographical region that spans from Morocco to Bangladesh. This region includes rapidly emerging democracies, terrorism and other threats to peace and a significant amount of political and economic reform: interning in Senator Casey’s office provided a brief opportunity to see how the United States responds to these dynamics.

While in the office, my tasks largely focussed on researching and writing about foreign policy issues to inform and contribute to constituent correspondence, draft legislation, briefing memos to the Senator and a committee hearing that Senator Casey chaired on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Some of the issues that I worked on included the 2014 elections in Afghanistan, the Administration’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, tensions with North Korea and the situation in Mali.

Working in the Senate also afforded me the opportunity to attend hearings and seminars related to my study and work. Some of the hearings I attended included Secretary Hillary Clinton testimony on the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012, confirmation hearings for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan, and a host of specific issues of interest to House or Senate Committees. There are also dozens of seminars held every day by world-class thinktanks in DC: the challenge is deciding which ones to attend.

As well as expanding my learning on international issues, the program gave me a valuable experience in learning how the US political system works. The Obama Administration was settling into a new term and critical issues such as gun control, fiscal priorities and immigration reform were hot topics during that time: all matters where the US perspective and approach differs from that taken by Australia. This program gave me the chance to see how issues are debated and addressed in the US, and to better understanding the social and political context of these issues.

As well as gaining new knowledge and insight into these areas, the internship was a great chance to meet a wide range of people and make contacts. A number of other interns were also working in Senator Casey’s office, and other Congressional offices. I found there was no shortage of experts across every field who were more than willing to sit down with an Australian and share their insights.

The experience has been incredibly valuable for my educational, professional and personal development. Since returning, I’ve been asked what the highlight of the experience was. Without a doubt, it was attending President Obama’s inauguration. Despite subzero temperatures all day, this was a rare event that I was lucky to participate in – not to mention a great insight into the relationship between the President and the American people.

US politics are frequently discussed in Australia; but nothing compares to being part of it.

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