WASHINGTON — The first Tuesday of June at around 5:30 p.m., reporters gathered outside the underground subway of the U.S. Capitol Building as senators made their way to an evening vote.
Journalists typically stake out the Senate basement, waiting for their chance to flag down a senator with questions about the news of the day. It’s a convenient spot to catch them as they journey from their offices to the Senate floor. But this time, it wasn’t just reporters on the hunt.
This summer, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s interns — a cohort of eight recent high school graduates and two college-age coordinators — embarked on a quest: take a photo with every U.S. senator.
By the last day of their internship June 30, they’d racked up 75 photos.
The mission generated some buzz on Capitol Hill. Katherine Tully-McManus, a Politico reporter and author of popular congressional newsletter Huddle, tweeted that the interns were “relentless.”
“Being from Alaska, of course, we don’t get to see a lot of cool political figures and big faces in American politics,” said intern Zoe Springsteen of Anchorage. “So it was just so cool to meet all these people and take pictures with them.”
Trying to get photos with some senators left the interns feeling the Bern.
“Sanders, he moves quick,” Ellie Shaw of Anchorage said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was one of their top targets, and they tracked him down for a selfie. They made sure it was a 0.5 — Gen Z’s preferred method for selfie-taking, with an ultra-wide angle lens.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz agreed to a group photo. One intern, Jack Zink of Ketchikan, was so thrilled by the encounter with the former presidential candidate he posed for a separate one-on-one photo and then made it his iPhone lockscreen wallpaper.
“What a moment,” Zink said.
When the Senate was scheduled to vote, the group of interns — who came to D.C. this summer from across Alaska, from Petersburg to Fairbanks to Anchorage — headed to the Senate subway to find more lawmakers. They had particular luck as the senators came down an escalator on their way back toward their offices since, the interns reasoned, there was nowhere else for them to go except right toward them.
“It’s being like a bear at the top of a salmon stream, trying to catch them all,” said Zink.
The interns got one photo flanking Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman with his arms outstretched, the 6-foot-8 senator’s wingspan stretching across the two interns on either side.
Diego Areas Munhoz, a congressional labor and employment reporter for Bloomberg Industry Group, said Hill reporters enjoyed watching the interns bring together “unusual bedfellows” for photos — lawmakers who are “probably not sponsoring legislation together.”
For one photo, the crowd of interns smiled brightly with Murkowski, Democratic Sens. Jacky Rosen of Nevada and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, plus Republican Sens. Mike Rounds of South Dakota and James Lankford of Oklahoma.
They also were able “to get pictures with some senators that don’t even stop for the press. In that sense, they were able to get some wins there,” Munhoz said.
When they aren’t searching for senators, the interns spend their program shadowing Murkowski and working on various legislative, administrative and communications projects. They went to committee meetings addressing subjects like artificial intelligence, mental health and Indian boarding schools. This time, a few also attended newsworthy events like India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to a joint meeting of Congress.
Murkowski, once an intern herself for Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens in 1975, also got in on the photo scavenger hunt for her colleagues. Shaw said Murkowski started calling out senators by their first name.
In an interview, Murkowski said she gave the interns tips on where to find certain senators — and sometimes, she was the woman behind the camera.
Because their last day was June 30 and they didn’t reach their goal of 100, the group says it is up to Murkowski’s next intern cohort to get pictures with the remaining 25 senators.
Though her interns didn’t get photos with all 100 senators — they weren’t able to get some of their top targets, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — Murkowski said she thinks the experience conveyed a valuable message about government.
“I think they realize that these are people with an important title, but they’re just people, and they stopped and chatted and visited with them and took selfies, and laughed and told jokes,” Murkowski said. “I think it was good for these young people to see that their elected leaders in the United States Senate, Congress, can be real-live human beings — and that was a good, good lesson for them.”