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Rep. Joe Walsh Navigates Day One in Congress

Tom Williams/Roll Call
As he makes his way through his first day in Congress, Rep. Joe Walsh leaves the Cannon House Office Building on his way to the Capitol on Wednesday.

Rep. Joe Walsh has many worries on his first day in Congress. How will the Illinois Republican stay true to his small-government, tea party roots now that he’s in the reviled swamps of Washington? How will he become part of a Republican team when he was an outlier for so long?

But Wednesday morning, his challenge is simply to figure out which hallway and which elevator will take him to the Speaker’s Lobby, where his Congressional pin and voting card await.

Walsh, after all, wasn’t even supposed to be here. He surprised the GOP establishment by knocking off Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) in a tight race into which the national party didn’t contribute a dime.

But against all expectations, here he is, standing in his office in the Cannon House Office Building, his wiry frame practically twitching with intensity. His silvery thatch of hair is standing on end where he has raked his fingers through it.

A staffer hands him written directions to the Speaker’s Lobby (“Hang a right, elevator down ... second floor of the Capitol,” he reads softly) before he ventures out into the hallway.

Even though he isn’t entirely sure where he is going, Walsh walks fast. And talks fast. And he makes bold pledges.

Walsh has declared that he won’t take the health or pension benefits offered to Members of Congress. He will serve only three terms. And in what might be the biggest challenge for any Member, he will not vote for any legislation that increases the size of government or that oversteps constitutional authority.

He’s already anticipating the way those kinds of proclamations might create tension within the House Republican Conference. This freshman class must live up to audacious promises, he says. “We said a lot of things in the campaign,” he says. “And I’m not going to back out on it.”

But the tough-talking, hard-line Walsh of the campaign trail didn’t have to play nice with the rest of the GOP. Now he knows he’ll have to be a team player — at least some of the time.

“I’m not out in the wilderness with a bunch of tea party activists yelling at the top of my lungs. I’m in a system now,” he says. “My goals don’t change, but the way I go about it has to be different now. But the beliefs? On those, I will never, never compromise.”

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