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-CortezMaxine Waters meets with CBS News representatives over lack of black 2020 reporters Ocasio-Cortez to join House panel overseeing financial sector NAACP blasts CBS News on 2020 election team: 'Voices of Black America continue to be undervalued' MORE (D-N.Y.), a darling of the left, called on lawmakers to follow her lea after Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Dem chair meets Trump health chief on drug prices | Trump officials sued over new Kentucky Medicaid work rules | Democrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions We can’t tackle climate change if we ignore the main polluter — transportation Hoyer introducing legislation to block Trump from lifting sanctions on Russian companies 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) KhannaBlue states buck Trump to expand health coverage Ocasio-Cortez sparks debate with talk of 70 percent marginal rate Rethinking America’s commitment to Afghanistan 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 JayapalBlue states buck Trump to expand health coverage Dreamers-for-wall trade going nowhere in House Ocasio-Cortez sparks debate with talk of 70 percent marginal rate MORE's  (D-Wash.) office confirmed they will follow suit.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam Smith2019 should be Trump’s free trade year Congress poised to push back at Trump on Saudi Arabia, Syria Overnight Defense: Top House Armed Services Republican opposes military funds for wall | Speculation swirls over whether Trump will declare national emergency | Pentagon gets new chief of staff 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.