WASHINGTON -- At some point late Wednesday night, Steven Arango, an intern for Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), realized that his grand plan for attending the House Select Committee on Benghazi's hearing with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was going to shit.
Arango had visions of being first in line. So he decided to sleep in the Caucus Room on the third floor of the House Cannon Office Building, before waking up at an ungodly hour and walking next door to where the hearing would be held.
But contrary to his assumption that he’d find something to eat -- since, after all, members of Congress are always bragging about sleeping on cots in their offices -- Arango couldn't find anything substantial. He settled for Cheetos and apple juice.
As he looked around the Caucus Room, another problem arose: There was no good spot to actually lie down. So he sat in a chair, upright, and watched "Supernatural" on Netflix until he dozed off, his head bobbing up and down like a struggling airplane rider with a strained neck.
He woke up feeling, as he put it, “not good” -- though to be fair to the chair, no one wakes up before 4 a.m. feeling good.
But it got the job done. Arango achieved first-in-line status, having arrived (he claims) at 4:15 a.m. for a 10 a.m. hearing.
“I think it is a momentous time,” he said. “Benghazi is a huge event.”
And so was Thursday’s hearing.
Long before Clinton sat down for what could be 10 hours of testimony in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building, people like Arango lined up in hopes to getting one of a few hundred seats in the room. It was first-come-first-serve for the public, which created a filter for who would be in attendance. Standing for hours in the long hall on the first floor were, unequivocally, some of the most politically obsessed, borderline crazed, people in the nation. They were there to witness what they were sure would be history.
Right behind Arango was Eddie Neret, another Capitol Hill intern. He had not slept in a Capitol Hill office the night before, but he had showered in the evening so that he could “try to cut time in the morning.” He woke up at 4 a.m and took an Uber (a luxury, sure, but essential with stakes this high). Upon arriving around 5:30 a.m., however, he was told by Capitol Hill Police that the doors would not open until 7. He kind of freaked out at this point -- and not just because it was fairly dark at that hour.
“I was worried I wasn’t getting in,” he said. “No one seemed to know the protocol.”
Neret eventually got in before 7 and joined Arango. They passed time by talking about the race for House Speaker and meeting up with other interns. Around 8:30 a.m., with their feet beginning to swell from the constant standing, the group schemed out how to make the most of the morning. Since once in the room they’d lose their seats if they left, they decided to go to the bathroom one by one at around 9 a.m.
Though baby-faced and energetic, Arango and Neret were not the youngest in line. That title, in all likelihood, went to Kara Zupkus, Sean Brislin and Jacob Reuben Ramos. Freshmen at George Washington University, they had decided two nights earlier to come to the hearing as they hung out in their dorm, where they are neighbors. Two of them (Zupkus and Brislin) were self-described fans of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chair of the committee. Ramos was "on Team Hillary," excitedly noting that he had "never seen her in person before" -- which makes sense because he's probably 18.
Told that this was not, exactly, a quintessential college experience, Brislin laughed and relayed that he was planning on going to a hearing on the Ex-Im Bank next week.
Because the event was so early in the morning and on a weekday, it was logical that many of those in line were D.C.-based. A woman named Beth, for example, said she took off work to be there, only to reveal later that she's her own boss. "I report to me," she explained. "But I think I would have done this regardless of who my boss was."
But not everyone who waited to hear Clinton testify was an intern on the Hill, a student or even from the city. Some were advocates, like Alex Sanchez of New York, who has made 68 trips to D.C to advocate for the renewal of the James Zadroga Act, which provides health care funding for those affected by the attacks on the 9/11 of New York City/D.C infamy, not the one in Benghazi. "Today, we are lending our support to [Clinton]," Sanchez said, "because her leadership [on the Zadroga Act] saved lives."
Others in line were certifiable political tourists.
Kyle Drosdick and Eric Corley stood propped up against the wall in long coats and hats. They had rolled into D.C. from Long Island, New York, on a 2 a.m. train.
"We've been up since yesterday," boasted Corley, who said they walked straight over from Union Station to the Longworth building and got in line at 7 a.m. They skipped breakfast, but made sure to eat dinner in the middle of the night: spicy pork, some kind of fish, and kimchi.
"It was great," said Drosdick. "We just threw out the leftovers."
Drosdick said he's never been to a congressional hearing. and it felt historic to be able to attend Clinton's. He also was hoping to learn about safety procedures at U.S. embassies since he and Corley are obsessive travelers. They've been to nearly 30 countries in the last six years.
"We're very curious about things," said Corley. "We're basically just wandering around."
Neither was worried about being stuck in a potentially 10-hour hearing, or about losing their seats if they left for food or a stretch. They said they wouldn't leave even if they had to go to the bathroom … badly.
"We have a plan," Corley said. "We're keeping our secrets."
Nancy and John Stevens traveled even further. Bostonians, they were on a vacation in Maine this past year when they decided to plan a trip to D.C. specifically timed to Clinton's testimony. They do stuff like this. In fact, this was the second Benghazi-related hearing they had attended.
"We are history buffs," said John. "And this is history. I don't think we have ever gotten the real story."
On the other side of the building from the general public was a second line winding down a hall for media trying to nab seats. Jeanine Pirro, the host of Fox News' "Justice with Judge Jeanine" stood near the front, just as exhausted as the tourists.
"I don't even know if I'm in the right line," said Pirro, who had been up since 4:30 a.m. "I don't know the building. I don't know where the coffee is. But I would love a cup of coffee."
Pirro, a former prosecutor, judge and New York elected official -- who briefly ran for the Republican nomination to take on Clinton in the 2006 New York Senate election -- said she wanted to come to the hearing herself to assess people's body language, credibility and other behaviors she's used to observing in a courtroom. She said she felt "great" about sitting through a potentially 10-hour hearing, even though she missed breakfast, hadn't slept much and still didn't know where to get that desperately needed coffee.
The most important thing was getting a seat and keeping it to the bitter end.
"I'll leave my purse. I'll leave my coat. They're not taking my seat," said Pirro. "I have a show on Saturday. I'm doing this."
The wonderful video at the top of this post was shot and edited by Mike McAulliff