Capitol Hill will have a back-to-school vibe Tuesday, as Congress reconvenes and lawmakers and staff get reacquainted with their colleagues and get serious about work after several weeks off from legislating.
Adding to that energy will be the 80 or so members of the 113th Congress’ House freshman class who, along with one aide each, will arrive in Washington, D.C., throughout the day for New Member Orientation.
Orientation, or “Being a Member of Congress 101,” is a rite of passage for members-elect, a series of briefings and seminars to prepare the new lawmakers for their roles before they are sworn-in in January.
This year, orientation will be broken up into two weeks, separated by the Thanksgiving holiday. And according to the schedule of events released by the House Administration Committee, which organizes the orientation, every day will be a busy one.
Adding to the drama of the situation is the fact that House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren, R-Calif., is leading orientation at the same time his own electoral fate is still unresolved. Among the new members scheduled to attend orientation is Lungren’s Democratic opponent, Ami Bera, who is leading the chairman by 1,779 votes, a small enough margin that the race has not been called yet.
Though orientation proper won’t begin until Wednesday, members-to-be will check into their hotel rooms Tuesday. This year’s host is the Capitol Hill Hotel on the corner of C and Second streets Southeast, right down the street from the Capitol South metro station and a stone’s throw from the House side of the Capitol.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, presentations will be held in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitor Center on topics such as ethics rules, office budgets and staff hiring. As is tradition, a class photo will be taken on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday.
Orientation picks up again the week after Thanksgiving. Nov. 27 will be set aside for check-in and arrivals. The balance of the week will include a tour of the House floor and an overview of the legislative process based out of the Library of Congress. There will also be a reception for new members at the U.S. Botanic Garden and on Nov. 30, the very last day of orientation, comes the moment they’ve all been waiting for: the lottery for office assignments.
In between all the required meetings and events, the freshmen will attend to other administrative business, such as searching out places to live and meeting with potential staff members. The members-elect will also be participating in their party’s leadership elections.
All the briefings are closed to the public, specifically the media, in order to encourage new members to speak freely and ask questions without fear of embarrassment in the press. Every orientation event, however, includes a stakeout location for credentialed reporters who want to catch up with the new lawmakers. Journalists wielding cameras and notebooks will also have an opportunity to set up shop outside the Capitol Hill Hotel.
It will be another important experience for members of the freshman class before they come to work in January: basking in, or running from, the ever-present media spotlight.