The largest collection of House freshmen in almost two decades — they’re fully 22 percent of the chamber’s membership — has been in office for two months now.
As a class, they’ve gained attention across the country and around the world because the arrival of 87 new Republicans (and just nine new Democrats) heralds the revival of a GOP majority after four years on the outs — and the return of divided government for the second half of President Barack Obama’s term.
And, collectively, the Republican newcomers are already asserting a measure of control over their caucus, and their leadership, that seems outsized even when compared to their strength in numbers. (Three out of every eight members of the GOP Conference is a new arrival.) As a group, they seem emphatically unwilling to play the customary role of quiet and obsequious backbenchers; instead, they sound determined to push their goals as forcefully and fast as possible, then let the electoral chips fall where they may next year.
As individuals, though, members of the class of 2010 aren’t very well-understood yet, at least inside the Beltway. Beyond the predictable attention focused on the few who arrived with celebrity status — Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) for his “Real World” experience, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) for her millinery, Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) for his pedigree, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) for her rancher glamour, Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) for the demographic diversity that they’ve brought to their caucus — to most of Washington, the freshmen remain mainly an amorphous mass of ambition and energy. The voters of the 39 states that elected new Members in November may understand the nuances of their priorities and the subtleties of their ideologies; most of their new colleagues (and most of their colleagues’ aides) in the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn office buildings do not, and neither do most of the people in the suites on K Street.
This year’s first Roll Call policy briefing is designed to help change that, by allowing some of the freshmen to explain to a relatively wide audience what they hope to accomplish in the next two years.
Space limitations allowed us to select only 10 of the 96 in the class — a tough restriction given how genuinely interesting, and diverse, their back stories are. We started by considering the most prominent issues facing Congress and then looking at the rosters of freshmen assigned to the committees preparing to take on those issues. (Those rosters are remarkably long: 19 freshmen on Transportation and Infrastructure, 17 on Agriculture, 15 on Natural Resources, 14 on Armed Services and a dozen on Budget, five on Energy and Commerce, a trio on Appropriations and a pair on Ways and Means.)
We decided to ask one freshman on each of 10 committees to write about their goals for service on those panels. With so many to choose from, we were able to assemble a list that’s close to reflecting the demographics of the class. The contributors on these pages come from 10 different states and every region. Three are women. One is African-American and another Asian-American. Some are career politicians; others are almost brand new to elected office. There’s a farmer, a nurse, a sheriff, a pro hockey referee and a couple of real estate developers, along with the requisite number of lawyers.
And, if anything, the group skews too Democratic; there are two of them — because it seemed somehow odd to pick only one, even though Democratic first-termers are outnumbered by GOP freshmen better than 10 to 1.