Congressional staffer | Office of Congressman Michael Capuano
What do you do?
I work for Congressman Mike Capuano, a member of the House of Representatives. He represents the Boston/Cambridge area. I've been his Policy Advisor for over two years now, and started my Capitol Hill career on the Senate side where I worked for Senators Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez.
You're his policy advisor. What does it entail?
My issue portfolio covers a number of issues including foreign policy, defense, veterans’ affairs, telecommunications, and trade issues. Working on Capitol Hill, you don't have a consistent routine. Every day is different, which is one of the many reasons why I love working in Congress.
I would say my main priority every session week is to draft recommendations for the Congressman on how he should vote and monitor legislative activity on the House floor. Additionally, I represent the Member in meetings and I’m in charge of building relationships with local, state and national groups. Aside from drafting legislation, I write letters, press statements, questions for committee hearings, and talking points for House floor debate.
Plus, I work closely with the Chief of Staff, Communications Director, and District Director to implement district-focused legislative and outreach strategies.
In terms of foreign affairs, my focus is Europe, Middle East and Africa. Congressman Capuano co-chairs the Sudan & South Sudan caucus. There, my role has been facilitating high-level senior meetings with the State Department, the United Nations, NGOs, etc. And develop and advance the caucus legislative agenda. I work with key international actors to secure funding for humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. And in 2016, I was named “40 Under 40 Latinos in Foreign Policy” by Huffington Post.
How did you end up working on the Hill?
I had no intentions of working on Capitol Hill until I did an internship there five years ago. I fell in love with Capitol Hill’s fast-paced nature, and being in the center of politics.
After that internship, I landed a year-long fellowship on the Senate side, working for Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. He was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, so I attended meetings and wrote memorandums. I was working with the Western Hemisphere team, primarily. I also did work at his personal office, working with his Hispanic advisor on various projects.
Then I worked for Senator Barbara Boxer as a Staff Assistant. That was my first official job as a congressional staffer because the fellowship didn't pay me. I worked for the California Senator for a year, and then I jumped from that to Congressman Capuano’s office as an advisor.
You've worked under two different administrations. How has going from Obama to Trump as President impacted your job?
I've never worked harder than I have this administration. On top of the culture on the Hill being very fast-paced, with this new administration there's a lot more things being thrown at us.
One week it can be sanctions, and health care, and something with immigration. It has made me stay even more vigilant when it comes to policy, what the administration's proposing, what's going through Congress.
How were you diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes?
I was diagnosed 11 months ago. Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic disease that is usually diagnosed in children. However, it's possible to get diagnosed as an adult with Type 1. I thought, since I'd been in DC, that I was healthy because I use to run half marathons.
Then one day, after I had done some blood work, the doctors called me in and said, ”You need to come in. You're diabetic." I didn't realise how grave the situation was. For the first few months, I was in complete denial and refused to inject insulin into my body.
On November 24th, the day before my birthday, I finally decided to give myself an insulin shot on my right upper leg after the doctors told me, “If you don’t take your insulin, you’ll die.”
How do you manage your illness with your very full-on job?
I went from thinking that I was healthy to having to take insulin shots five times a day. I started off with syringes, which was very difficult for me to manage because I have to juggle multiple balls in the air. I'm always on call: if my boss needs me to staff him in a meeting, or needs me to find out an answer on how other members are voting on a bill, I need to make a few phone calls.
I used syringes for three months, then I switched to an insulin pump, which automatically gives me insulin 24/7. That helped me, not just manage my day to day at the workplace, but get my life back. I felt that I was slowly coming back to who I was.
When you have an insulin pump, it can crash. That happened this morning in a meeting. When my pump crashes, it goes off like a fire alarm. So I'm in this meeting, with a few congressional staffers, and all of a sudden my pump makes a loud, obnoxious noise indicting a machine malfunction. Everybody looks at me. They all know it's coming from me. I just think to myself, "Okay. How am I going to handle this?" I thought, "All right, I'm going to calmly get my things, and I'm just going to walk out like, no big deal."
The reality is, after I left the meeting, I ran straight to my office because I needed to give myself a shot of insulin to make sure that my glucose level was in range. There are serious consequences if you do not test your glucose level and treat after a pump malfunction.
I couldn’t panic, because if I did, it would increase my sugar levels. I’ve learned how to remain calm and figure out a solution to the problem.
That's what this disease has taught me, that no matter what is being thrown at me, I can handle it. It's truly been a blessing in disguise and I look forward to this new life that I have now.
How do you manage it with the healthcare system?
I take it one day at a time. My current insurance covers the main things I need, such as insulin, a glucose monitor, and an insulin pump.
I'm more concerned about health care than I've ever been in my life, because it really affects my wallet now since I fall into the “pre-existing conditions” category. I've been fortunate to have good insurance, because diabetes is expensive. I don't know how others are able to manage it financially without insurance.
What would be your advice to a young girl, maybe who's been diagnosed when she was a kid, and she's worried. She's studying, she's worried about how to manage it within her career.
This disease does not prevent you from accomplishing whatever your goals are in life. Treat it as a gift.
Diabetes reminds me to constantly be reaching for my goals, to actively work at it each day, because tomorrow's never promised. You can absolutely pursue a career in foreign policy, have a family become President of the United States and have Type 1 Diabetes.
Has being diagnosed changed the way you're looking at your career?
Yes and no. Before Type 1 Diabetes, I would often tell myself "Hey, tomorrow's never guaranteed. You've got to shoot for the stars." I would tell that to others too. Now, being diagnosed, I believe it even more so. Every single day when I wake up, I'm grateful to be alive and appreciate all the opportunities that come my way.
In return, I mentor young professionals, women especially.
How do you think being Latina has impacted your career?
As a woman of colour, you have to work 10 times harder than the person next to you. In meetings with people from the White House, the State Department, the United Nations, etc, I tend to always be the only woman of colour. That motivates me to constantly improve as a congressional staffer and know the right questions to ask.
When I'm speaking, I do so on behalf of my boss. I don't take that responsibility lightly. When I do get discouraged - because again, it's okay to feel that at times - this disease is a reminder that nothing's promised. You have to try your best, be the best version of yourself every day. Everything else will work itself out.
You went to California State University-Fullerton. How was it?
I majored in political science, gender studies, and sociology. It was a wonderful experience. For the majority of my time, I was on the debate team. It was the top reason why I picked the school, they had an incredible policy debate team. That allowed me to travel throughout the country, from Harvard to University of California, Berkeley to Dartmouth.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give yourself when you started out on Capitol Hill?
Relax. Everything will work out.
What's your definition of success?
A successful person always pays it forward. They understand that when they're moving up, it's important to bring others with them. I try to live my life like that.
I recently stepped down as president of the Women's Congressional Staff Association. It's a bi-partisan, bicameral organisation that has over 800 members. Throughout the year, we hosted numerous professional development workshops that focused on essential skills needed to breakthrough to senior positions such as managing up and down, negotiating across the aisle, and effective communication in the office.
I believe that policy making is not objective, it is influenced by the staffers who write it, which is why it is integral that all communities are represented in the halls of Congress.