Name: Chrissi Lee
Hometown: Centreville, Va.
Position: Military legislative assistant for Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.
Alma mater: Virginia Tech
Washington Examiner: You studied political science in college. What drew you to that?
Chrissi Lee: I’m from the D.C. area, just about 20 minutes outside of the city, so I’ve always been around this environment. Our local news was national news, and government was always my favorite subject in school. Civics in elementary school and middle school, and then in high school, I really loved government. Being in this environment, I always knew that I wanted to study it further, and I always knew I wanted to come to Capitol Hill to make a difference. I didn’t always know what I wanted to do here, but I knew I wanted to end up here.
Washington Examiner: Do have a first early memory of politics?
Lee: In high school, I always volunteered on our local congressman’s races. I had an opportunity to intern for him my junior and senior year of high school, which was Congressman Frank Wolf at the time.
Washington Examiner: You also worked with Republicans on the 2012 election.
Lee: That was my first job out of college. I worked for the College Republican National Committee as a field representative. They sent me down to the Tidewater region of Virginia, and I worked on various college campuses to recruit students to volunteer on the campaign and to spread the message of Mitt Romney’s campaign and its platform. It was a really cool experience because I was fresh out of college, and I got to go back to the college environment and talk to a lot of students. When I wasn’t working on the college campuses, I’d go and help at the local campaign office doing phone banking and door-to-door. It’s definitely high-tempo, really stressful, but I thought it was very rewarding.
Washington Examiner: How did you make the jump from college politics to Hill staffer?
Lee: After the campaign, I moved back home. In the Republican Party in Virginia, they have an annual retreat called the Advance, because Republicans don’t retreat, they advance. I went down there to kind of look for a job, talk to people, and that’s when I met Congressman Bob Goodlatte. He asked what I was doing, and I said, “Looking for a job, sir.” He said, “Lucky for you, I’m hiring.” I sent him my resume but didn’t hear anything for about a month, so I wasn’t sure anything was going to happen. But I heard back from his chief of staff, had an interview, and was hired as a staff assistant.
Washington Examiner: You were with Rep. Goodlatte’s office for a while. What prompted your move to work for Rep. Hartzler’s office?
I started with Mr. Goodlatte as a staff assistant and became a legislative assistant. I handled defense policy for the congressman in his office, and I always knew I wanted to dig a little deeper into defense policy. I’m very close with my sister. She’s about 11 years older than I am, and her husband is active-duty Air Force. I’ve lived through a lot of their experiences. I’ve lived through their deployments and the effects that sequestration and budget cuts have had on their quality of life and missions. That’s made defense really personal. I knew the biggest impact I could have would be working for a member on the House Armed Services Committee. So, when I saw an opportunity to join Congresswoman Hartzler’s team, I took it. I started in April.
Washington Examiner: Tell me about the job of a military legislative assistant?
Lee: The congresswoman is a member of the Armed Services Committee. Every day is different here on the Hill, but typically, my responsibilities are preparing for hearings and preparing for the National Defense Authorization Act. That is the big bill that the House Armed Services Committee does every year. I was really shocked to learn that that is a yearlong process. We just wrapped up [fiscal 2018], and we are already starting to talk about proposals for FY19, so we’re working through those now. Then, we’ll start the submission process, and then, we’ll go into markup, then floor, and then conference. It takes a lot of time, but it is so rewarding to work on such an important piece of legislation. I’ll also work on some stand-alone bills for the congresswoman as well.
Washington Examiner: You’re working toward a master’s degree at the Air Force Air Command and Staff College. The students come from the military services but can also come from federal agencies?
Lee: All of the majors in the Air Force have to go through this program. Within the last couple of years, they opened it up to Hill staffers. It is an online master’s program, and I have two more classes left, so I am just starting my research and thesis portion of the program. It’s been a great experience. I don’t have a military background, so being able to take these classes and really understand with a little more depth some of these issues helps me in my role here advising the congresswoman.
Washington Examiner: What specific area of study are you pursuing for your degree?
Lee: I am getting my masters in the joint warfare concentration. For my thesis, we have to pick a research topic, and I really wanted to pick something that is relatable to the work that I am doing here. The congresswoman is co-chair of the Long Range Strike Caucus, and Whiteman Air Force Base is located in Missouri’s 4th District, so it is home to the B-2. She is also one of the biggest advocates for the [upcoming] B-21 bomber. For my thesis, I am leaning toward, what should our bomber force look like? How many bombers should we have? Do we have enough to do our deterrence missions in the Pacific and Eastern Europe as well as our mission in the Middle East? That is going to be a really hot topic as we decide how many B-21s we are going to purchase.
Washington Examiner: Do you ever get any free time? What do you do when you’re not at work?
Lee: I do have very little free time especially since I’m in school. I do like to run. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon a couple years ago. It was my first marathon, so I’m hoping to get back into running marathons again. It takes a lot of time.
Washington Examiner: How are you at running marathons?
Lee: I did pretty well. I think 4:03:00 was my time. It was pretty good for my first time. I’d like to get up to that level again and try another marathon.
Washington Examiner: Any advice for people who want to work in politics or on Capitol Hill?
Lee: My advice would be to really get yourself out there, talk to a lot of people, volunteer. Volunteering on a campaign has really helped me understand the politics, and then interning really helped me understand the policy. I know when a lot of people come here, they don’t want to do unpaid internships. But those are very valuable because you're really able to understand a breadth of information and knowledge.