Prof. Mietek Boduszyński and Dylan Elliott ’21 went from being a teacher and student at Pomona College to colleagues in the office of Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.).
Boduszyński, an associate professor of politics and international relations, is on an American Political Science Association (APSA) Fellowship, serving as a foreign policy adviser to Lieu, while Elliott recently completed an internship with the congressman. They found themselves working for Lieu during a pivotal moment in American history — the congressman was a House manager during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, and Boduszyński and Elliott had to navigate their new roles amid a pandemic and the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
"The first month of my internship was dominated by the second impeachment, and it was all hands on deck for a majority of the staff," Elliott says. "Everyone was trying to help each other out and doing their respective jobs, and doing the best they could. I started five days after the insurrection attempt, and my first month was going 100 miles per hour out the gate."
Lieu represents California's 33rd Congressional District. Elliott, a philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) major, was one of two interns on the team, tasked with answering phone calls and emails from constituents — and others — who wanted Lieu to know how they felt on issues like immigration and the southern border. The pace slowed down considerably after the impeachment, and Elliot began attending briefings and was also able to take part in two calls with Lieu — one with the entire staff and the other with just the interns.
"That was really nice, to be able to ask him questions directly and hear his answers," Elliott said. "It was a human moment, to get to talk to a member of Congress you might otherwise not have an opportunity to speak with outside of the limelight."
Lieu sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and as a foreign policy adviser, Boduszyński writes memos to prepare the congressman for hearings and briefings and drafts letters to send to officials like the Secretary of Defense. In addition, Boduszyński has also helped draft legislation — which he says is one of the most exciting parts of the job — and lets Lieu know where constituents stand on issues and prepares him for events with advocacy groups. The intent is not to tell Lieu what to do but inform his decisions on what positions to take.
"Representative Lieu has enormous moral courage," Boduszyński says. "He is not afraid to call things as they are, and if needed to stand up to a presidential administration. He stood up to the Trump administration, but he also stands up to the current administration if he feels a government witness is not answering questions honestly or faithfully." One example is Lieu being instrumental in pressing three successive administrations — Obama, Trump and Biden — to end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen. Lieu's foreign policy work is widely respected in Washington and beyond, Boduszyński says, and many groups and individuals are eager to engage with him.
"It was pure happenstance that we were both in Lieu's office at the same time. After taking two classes with Prof. Boduszynski, I was excited to get to know him outside of the classroom. Although we were working remotely, it was seamless going from student and teacher to co-workers."- Dylan Elliott '21
"I was delighted," Boduszyński says. "Dylan is an awesome guy, and he helped me through things early on. He knew the online systems, and we were able to exchange impressions and frustrations. It was nice to have a colleague in the office whom I already knew and trusted."
Elliott was surprised by how much confidence the staffers had in him, and "never thought I would get my hands on some of the stuff I did," he says. "That is reflective of the top down. Congressman Lieu trusts staff and the staff trusted me. This was a positive culture."
He enjoyed the experience so much that after the internship with Lieu's office concluded, he jumped to the Senate, where he is now an intern with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada). After graduating from Pomona, he would like to spend time in Washington working on the staff of an elected member of Congress, before going to law school.
"The culture and environment of an institution like Pomona and the 5Cs in general absolutely led to me having the success that I had with the internship," Elliott says. "Professors like Mietek build curiosity in their students and the desire to learn more and be open-minded and try to engage with things. A lot of people think things are very black and white, and actually, they are a lot more gray, and working in government and Congress shows that."
Boduszyński is grateful to Pomona for allowing him to pursue this opportunity, and will use what he learned in a new course this fall, "Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy." Elliott, in his final semester at Pomona, will be in the class. Boduszyński hopes that he can show people in their mid-careers that it's not too late to try something new, and "an internship-like experience is not something that ends when you're young." He found that many of the staffers in Lieu's office were younger than him, but says "you just put aside any ego. I have already done lots of stuff in my life, but I still have a lot to learn from the younger folks as well who know Congress much better. At the end of the day, I am here to support Congressman Lieu's agenda and be a member of the team."
It's never been more vital for people to understand different perspectives, Boduszyński says, and he and Elliott have both seen up close that lawmakers across the political spectrum are working on legislation together and trying to rebuild bridges. Foreign policy-related legislation is one area where there is often bipartisan cooperation.
"A lot of Americans think bipartisanship is starting to dwindle, but there are a substantial amount of bipartisan bills passing with a wide majority in the House of Representatives," Elliott says. "Some polls have stated that we are as polarized as a nation as we were during the Civil War, but it's worth noting that the government is still getting things done. It's intentionally slow and methodical because missteps have catastrophic consequences."