Heard on the Hill

Peters Grants Teen’s Wish to Be a Senator for a Day

Thomas Stephenson, who has congenital heart condition, experienced hectic day on the Hill

Make-A-Wish recipient and ‘U.S. Senator for a Day’ Thomas Stephenson takes questions in Sen. Gary Peter’s, D-Mich., office Tuesday. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Gary Peters handed a binder to 18-year-old Thomas Stephenson on Tuesday as they headed for the Capitol from his office.

“Take your football,” the Michigan Democrat said. “I told him, you gotta have your football. He’s got the same thing I do.”

Stephenson has a heart condition, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a type of congenital heart defect that affects blood flow through the heart. Peters granted the Greenville, Michigan, native his wish to be a senator for a day. 

Peters showed him the “special senator button,” he said, to call the senators-only elevator in the Hart Building.

“I’m really excited to go down on the Senate floor. That’s going to be the highlight for me, I think,” Stephenson said.

Make-A-Wish recipient and 'U.S. Senator For a Day' Thomas Stephenson and Sen. Gary Peters', D-Mich., ride the Senate Subway Tuesday July 10, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Stephenson and Peters ride the Senate Subway. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Peters partnered with Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic on Stephenson’s wish. The two spent the morning having coffee with constituents, meeting with people about college costs and how tariffs are affecting the agricultural sector.

West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also stopped in for a meeting.

“We had three senators in the room with Shelley here,” Peters said, laughing. “It was important for Tom to see that we also work in a bipartisan way here in the Senate.”

“That’s also something I didn’t realize, too. You hear about the fights between the parties … but there also is great bipartisanship. It’s needed and it’s also in place,” Stephenson said.

UNITED STATES: July 10: Make-A-Wish recipient and 'U.S. Senator For a Day' Thomas Stephenson and Sen. Gary Peters', D-Mich., ride the elevator to the Senate Subway in the Hart Senate Office Building Tuesday July 10, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Stephenson and Peters ride the elevator in the Hart Senate Office Building. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Stephenson, who will be a freshman at Michigan State University in the fall, has been passionate about politics since his grandmother took him to D.C. when he was 8.

“I would love to run for office one day, however, I’m going to be pragmatic and go into the field of nursing to start with,” he said. “I know I can be involved in the political process even if I don’t have a political degree and I can get elected even if I don’t have a political degree.”

Stephenson made an impression in his short time on the Hill.

“I think I’m enjoying [today] as much, if not more, as Tom is enjoying it,” Peters said. “It’s been really a great day to be with him. His enthusiasm is infectious.”

Stephenson asked questions and involved himself throughout the day.

“He’s been sitting through the meetings, he’s been asking lots of questions, we’ve been getting his opinion not just on the Supreme Court justice but on agribusiness, especially school affordability, which is a big issue for him as he goes to Michigan State University in the fall,” Peters said.

Tuesday was a hectic day in the Senate, with Judge Brett Kavanaugh meeting with lawmakers the day after his nomination to the Supreme Court, but Stephenson had a different reaction to it.

“It’s fairly calm in here, really. I’m sure you have people that are doing research and stuff on the stuff that’s going but on, it’s a very calm atmosphere while you’re actually in here, in the offices,” he said.

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