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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-CortezClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere Trump tweets Thanksgiving criticism of NFL QBs for kneeling MORE (D-N.Y.), a darling of the left, called on lawmakers to follow her lea after Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift 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) KhannaBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally 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 JayapalInequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE's  (D-Wash.) office confirmed they will follow suit.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump rails against Twitter in late night tweets The pandemic and a 'rainy day fund' for American charity House Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races 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.