CMC Holds Congress Simulation

This past week, Government students from Claremont McKenna College, Pomona, and Pitzer College engaged in the long-standing Congress simulation. The simulation, which began on Monday, March 28 and ran until Thursday, March 31, serves to provide students studying government with a better feel for the inner workings of the actual Congress. From CMC, students in Professor John J. Pitney Jr.'s Congress course make up a large portion of the participants. Pitney has been conducting the simulation since 1987. The 2011 simulation features the CMC class as representing the Democratic senators, the Pomona class representing the Republican senators, and the Pitzer students comprising the Executive Branch, as well as a few senators from both parties.

The classes switch party affiliations annually, with the largest class representing the majority party in Congress at the time.

Students dress in character for the simulation, usually donning a suit and tie, and some even adopt appropriate accents for the senators they are representing. The simulation ran roughly from 6:30 pm to 10:30 pm from Monday to Thursday.

Pitney has also offered his Politics of Journalism class the opportunity to cover the simulation. Two media groups – Claremont Media Coverage (CMC) and the Huffington Post – covered the simulation this year. Involvement of the press can add authenticity to the simulation by allowing senators to engage with the media, who play a large part in real congressional proceedings.

The majority of students involved have enjoyed the simulation, engaging in political banter and having a little fun with the subject matter as well.  One section of a bill, for example, was entitled “Congress is tired of these motherf*****g snakes in this motherf*****g country." Additionally, celebrity names like Charlie Sheen and the late Ted Kennedy (who rose from the dead for this important occasion) have testified at the mock-Congressional hearings.

Hannah Burak, CMC ’13, playing Senator Begich (D-AK) in the simulation, notes: “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a really great look into the lives of congressmen…” Burak adds, “Charlie Sheen’s testimony was definitely a highlight.”

Nathaly Moreno, PO ’12, playing Senator Collins (R-ME), agrees, saying: “It’s pretty enjoyable. I think I like voting the best.”

While fun, the simulation was also educational. Steph Migdail, Pitzer ’12, playing Kathleen Sebelius (the current Secretary of Health and Human services), commented on how much she has learned: “I was kind of hesitant about it at first, I wasn’t sure how seriously people were going to take it. All in all, I think it worked really well, and I think I learned more about Congress from this than from class.”

This year's simulation ended when zombies overtook Congress. Reports of a zombie outbreak sent the President into hiding while secret service agents rushed the Vice President to the nearest safe location (The Coop), and forced Congress to adjourn the hearing. While perhaps a tad unrealistic, debates can go for hours without intervention.  For example, Pitney remembers "having to resolve a conflict about voting procedures at 3 am by tossing a coin."

However, the simulation is not all silliness. Pitney notes that the simulation helps students “to understand dynamics of the legislative process. And it’s one thing to describe it, it’s another thing to do it. And when you do it, it sticks.”