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When Florida state Sen. Frederica Wilson decided to run for Congress, she hoped that for once, unlike in her home state, she would be in the majority. Not so this year. But as one of only nine new Democrats in the House, Wilson said she’s trying to make the best of it.
“It’s wonderful. It’s almost like a little elite club,” she said, taking a lunch break from new-Member orientation Monday. “We call ourselves the determined nine. And we’re going to work very closely together.”
Rep.-elect David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said this wasn’t the atmosphere he envisioned either. But freshman orientation gives him a chance to make inroads across the aisle.
“We’re just getting to know each other,” he said. “We’re making an effort, as all our colleagues are, to meet the Republicans.”
That’s quite a task. More than 80 Republicans make up this freshman class, and for the most part, the day belonged to them.
The mood was frenetic in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional auditorium, where the almost 100 Representatives-elect spent the day cycling in and out of orientation class after orientation class, lunching and schmoozing with new co-workers and talking to the press.
It was all hugs and smiles as Rep.-elect Tim Scott (S.C.) commended fellow Republican Rep.-elect Renee Ellmers (N.C.) on her note-taking skills.
“You are now officially class secretary,” he joked, though she’s still waiting on the result of a recount in her race against Rep. Bob Etheridge (D).
Scott and Rep.-elect Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), who are both vying for the new freshman leadership position Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) created, chatted between sessions. But Scott insisted there was no time to talk politics.
“We haven’t really started working on a political agenda,” he said. “We’re still going through the mundane, from my perspective.”
That was the consensus opinion on opening day of new-Member orientation. This young, hungry political class streamed into the Capitol over the weekend ready to change the building’s dynamic. But first, they have to learn how to get around the building.
The Monday sessions focused on the basics of how to be a Member of Congress — the administrative aspects, such as setting up offices, Member pay and benefits, and legal issues. Or as Rep.-elect Joe Heck put it, “Welcome to Congress, this is what you’re going to need to know.”