He rocked back in his plastic cafeteria chair, hands clasped behind his head, wearing the comfortable smile of a man who has been here before.
The Representative-elect is a freshman only in the technical sense of the word. Yes, Charlie Bass spent the previous week trudging through freshman orientation, and most of his Friday morning stuck at the freshman class photo. But the soon-to-be New Hampshire Congressman holds a distinction.
It’s not just that he served in Congress before. There are five former Members among the 96 incoming House freshmen. But Bass is one of just two in this giant freshman class — the other being Ohio’s Steve Chabot — to have first been elected in the 1994 Republican revolution and again in the conservative takeover of 2010.
“Two of us were so-called majority-makers twice,” said a relaxed Bass, lounging in the corner of the Rayburn cafeteria late last week, his new chief of staff at his side. “I don’t care about being a Congressman. I’ve done that. I ran because I think I can make a real contribution in a relatively short period of time to change America.”
Much has changed since his first freshman experience.
There were no BlackBerrys in 1994, Bass said, glancing at the government-issued smart phone on the table in front of him. During his first freshman orientation — a production hastily slapped together 16 years ago when few people expected the flood of freshmen — he borrowed a cell phone from then-Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) to make calls.
“A lot of the people there were surprised to be there, and, quite honestly, utterly ill-prepared. And orientation was nowhere near as complete and carefully managed as it is now,” said Bass, who was a 43-year-old state lawmaker in his first year on Capitol Hill. He now returns at 58 with 12 years of House experience. “I think a lot of new Members got off to a weak start, because of the mechanics of not knowing what to do. And there’s just so much support now in how to hire people, how to do things right, so you don’t make any mistakes in the first month.”
Bass admitted that he skipped a few orientation sessions this time around — the tour of the House floor, for example. But he sat through tutorials on ethics, House rules and administration.
“I didn’t know what to expect in orientation. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn as much as I have. I either forgot or it changed,” he said, adding that he is working to help guide true freshmen through what can be an overwhelming transition. “New Members come up to me. ... They don’t want to admit there are things that they don’t know.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.