On the morning of April 28, 2010, Jason Rahlan entered the Members’ dining room and saw his boss, Rep. Jackie Speier, sitting at a table drinking a cup of coffee. He walked over to the Congresswoman and handed her a draft of the speech she was about to give. After reviewing it for a few minutes, she rose from her chair, Rahlan walked her up a long, marble staircase, and she ventured out onto the House floor.
It was there that Speier gave her first speech written by Rahlan.
“Parts of it were a blur, but I kept thinking, Wow, this is it,'” Rahlan said. “Everything that I wrote is accurate, right? Is it too long? Does she like it?'”
Rahlan, 26, was hired as press secretary for the California Democrat in April after stints with the Center for American Progress and the 2008 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Although his career on the Hill has just begun, his first brushes with politics and the press came at an early age.
Growing up, Rahlan was an avid consumer of politics and the media, which led him to pursue a political science degree at American University. After his first summer as an AU student, he decided to put his passion into action and applied for an internship with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
“I remember Congressman Nadler being on the floor of the House of Representatives when I was a kid during the Clinton impeachment,” Rahlan said. “He was giving this fiery speech about how this was absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
The young AU student incorporated his cherished memories of Nadler’s speeches and appearances on the TV show “Crossfire” into his cover letter and was consequently granted a summer internship with the Congressman in 2004. Two summers later, he interned for the political action committee of then-Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.). Even though Rahlan admits that interning on the Hill can be exhausting at times, he encourages future interns to stay positive.
“For any entry-level job or internship, it’s proving that you are reliable, responsible and competent. Then you’ll get the opportunity to do something more substantive,” Rahlan said. “And that’s hard, especially if you’ve never worked in an office before.”
For Rahlan, his hard-earned internship experience paid off; he was hired to work for the Clinton campaign the day after his graduation from AU. His primary job was working at the national advance desk, where he reported to director Jon Davidson. Although his daily duties dealt with the logistical needs of advance staffers on the road, such as arranging plane tickets and transportation, his proudest moment came the night of the New Hampshire primary victory.
“It’s 5 in the morning, you’re trying to get everything done, but you’re just running on adrenaline,” Rahlan said. “My last e-mail exchanges with Jon Davidson were around 5:15 a.m., basically expressing a mix of elation, pride and total exhaustion.”
Rahlan began working for the Center for American Progress in July 2008 under Jennifer Palmieri, where he eventually was promoted to press aide. Rahlan attributes everything he knows about communication to his time at CAP.
“I was doing my very best at CAP to make sure people had the best information to make smart policy decisions,” said Rahlan, who worked on the press team and occasionally wrote speeches for the center’s president and CEO, John Podesta.
After two years, however, the skills he cultivated as a press aide eventually led him to the office of Jackie Speier. He started his job as press secretary on April 26, just two days after his last day at CAP.
“I’ve definitely hit the ground running, so I haven’t had a moment to breathe,” Rahlan said. “The biggest challenge has been understanding the rhythm of the Hill and the intricacies of the institution.”
His decision to work for Speier was prompted by her inspiring story. Rahlan said that after the position opened up, he called some friends in California who confirmed the Congresswoman’s remarkable reputation.
Speier, who has been representing California’s 12th district since 2008 and served in the California Legislature for 18 years, was shot five times in 1978 when members of the Peoples Temple group opened fire on a delegation led by her then-boss, Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.). Although Speier miraculously survived, the Congressman was killed.
“If you can handle that and still thrive and prosper, and have a career and have a family,” Rahlan said, and then paused, “I just have a special place in my heart for a woman like that.”
Since he took over as press secretary for Speier, Rahlan has been busy writing speeches, press releases and opinion pieces. Additionally, Rahlan said that he uses his position to advocate for what he thinks are important rights, including health care and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Rahlan reflected on his time in Washington: “I’ve learned the most important thing is that you’re fighting for the causes you believe in and the people you believe in. That’s all that matters.”
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