Congressman hit by backlash after advertising for unpaid interns on Twitter

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Rep Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey (Getty Images)
Rep Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey (Getty Images)

A New Jersey Democrat has changed an advertisement for college interns on his website to state that he’ll pay at least some of them after receiving backlash from progressives on Twitter over the issue.

Rep Josh Gottheimer initially drew criticism over the weekend with a tweet that advertised his office’s internship programme, which runs year-round for students in college.

At issue was a line of text in the application that read: “Although all internships in all offices are unpaid, students gain invaluable work experience” in the position.

The application drew mocking responses from progressives on Twitter, including The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein, who noted that Mr Gottheimer’s net worth is in the millions.

He later noted that the centrist Democratic congressman blocked him over the tweet, which was retweeted hundreds of times (far more than Mr Gottheimer’s original tweet).

A progressive group formed during Sen Bernie Sanders’ two presidential bids, People for Bernie, also responded to Mr Gottheimer’s tweet, writing simply: “Pay your interns, Josh.” Their account was blocked too.

By Monday afternoon, the congressman’s office had apparently changed its strategy on the issue. Updated text on Mr Gottheimer’s website read: “The office utilizes the annual House Paid Internship Program to help pay interns.”

In an email to The Independent, the congressman’s spokesperson contended that the old text had been incorrect, and that the congressman’s office “always utilized the program to pay interns”. No explanation was given for when the interns began receiving pay, at what rate, or why the text stated otherwise.

No notice of the change was apparent on Mr Gottheimer’s website or his social media accounts as of Monday afternoon. The only evidence of the change appeared in the form of screenshots taken by Mr Klippenstein and others during their criticism of the system.

Interns are typically paid below a living wage on Capitol Hill, if at all; when paid through the House Paid Internship Program, interns for members of the House receive an average of around $1,612.53 for seven-week programmes, according to a 2021 report from Roll Call. That’s far short of what two months of rent looks like for a small apartment in or around the DC area.

Some offices pay interns at a higher rate than do offices which utilise the House Paid Internship Program, which allocates House members $25,000 to be used for intern pay every year.

Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced in 2018 that she would pay her interns $15/hour upon taking office, which she now does. Such a pay rate in Washington DC comes out to around $1,800 per month.

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