Push to pay congressional interns $15 an hour gains traction with progressives

The push to pay congressional interns $15 an hour is catching on with House progressives, with proponents arguing the move is necessary to ensure opportunities for people regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The issue gained traction Wednesday after Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal The Green New Deal would benefit independent family farmers Juan Williams: America needs radical solutions MORE (D-N.Y.), a darling of the left, called on lawmakers to follow her lea after Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE’s office (D-N.Y.) posted an advertisement for unpaid interns. A Schumer spokesman later said the posting had been made “in error.”

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“It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about ‘fiscal responsibility,’ " Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Defense: House votes to end US support for Saudis in Yemen | Vote puts Trump in veto bind | Survey finds hazards in military housing | Senators offer new bill on Russia sanctions House passes bill to end US support for Saudi war in Yemen Congress poised to put Trump in veto bind MORE (D-Calif.) echoed the sentiments, saying he believes it could help lead candidates who can’t afford to work for free into careers in public service.

“The House has a new fund for internships. This is a welcome change & long overdue. Like many other offices, we will be paying our interns at least $15 an hour," Khanna tweeted. "This will ensure that young people of different economic backgrounds will be able to pursue public service internships."

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Push for cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill | Court lets Dems defend ObamaCare | Flu season not as severe as last year, CDC says Democrats seek cosponsors for new 'Medicare for all' bill Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Utah tests Trump on Medicaid expansion | Dems roll out Medicare buy-in proposal | Medicare for all could get hearing next month | Doctors group faces political risks on guns MORE's  (D-Wash.) office confirmed they will follow suit.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump’s state of emergency declaration imperils defense budget Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Papering over climate change impacts is indefensible MORE (D-Wash.) introduced a bill in September requiring congressional offices top compensate interns at the $15 hourly rate. Thirty-one Democratic lawmakers cosponsored the legislation, thought it’s unclear whether the measure will see any movement when Democrats regain control of the floor in January.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who co-sponsored the legislation, doesn't currently pay his interns $15 an hour, but is waiting to see what the budget looks like before constructing a plan for their compensation, a spokesman for his office told The Hill.

Republicans have largely opposed previous Democratic calls to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, arguing it would limit job growth and place a strain on small businesses. 

Khanna said he will have to take the budget into consideration while determining whether he will have to limit the number of interns he can take on as more would be devoted to their salaries.
"Depends on whether we get an increase in the [Members Representational Allowance]," he told The Hill Thursday.

Unpaid internships are not uncommon on Capitol Hill, with proponents arguing the positions provide young people with valuable work experience.

A 2017 report released by Pay Our Interns, a D.C.-based nonprofit, showed just 8 percent of House Republican offices and 3.6 percent of Democrat offices offered paid internships.

—Melanie Zanona contributed.