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-CortezThe unintended consequences of interest rate caps The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump threatens jail time over 'treason' and 'spying' Lewandowski: Why Joe Biden won't make it to the White House — again MORE (D-N.Y.), a darling of the left, called on lawmakers to follow her lea after Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 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) KhannaDem rep: You can't be a Democrat if you don't support abortion, LGBTQ rights House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row John Cusack calls for Trump's impeachment in Capitol Hill visit 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 JayapalDem rep: You can't be a Democrat if you don't support abortion, LGBTQ rights Dems eye big infrastructure package, with or without Trump Dems struggle to make Trump bend on probes MORE's  (D-Wash.) office confirmed they will follow suit.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithLet's talk about education and school choice in 2020 Overnight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon's ability to transfer military construction dollars 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.