Orientation: Some Are Old, Some Are New, Most Are Red, a Few Are Blue
On a sunny Wednesday in the nation’s capital, new members of Congress got their first taste of life as lawmakers in Washington, complete with meetings and run-ins with the press.
Newly elected House members arrived at the Capitol Hill Hotel two blocks from the Capitol starting at 9 a.m. Rep.-elect Cresent Hardy, R-Nev., greeted the media at the hotel, noting that he arrived in D.C. Tuesday night and he “woke up this morning with cameras in my face.”
“Welcome to Washington,” replied the reporters. Newly elected senators also had their first brushes with the media Wednesday morning. As incoming Senate Republicans left a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, they were whisked through a mob of reporters in the hallway.
They walked briskly through the crowd to the office of Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, who showed them around the Senate.
“I was kidding to [North Carolina state] Speaker [Thom Tillis], I said it’s interesting when you come to the floor you are pretty awestruck,” the Texas Republican said. “But the old joke is that you walk out on the floor as a new senator and you say, ‘What am I doing here?’ Six months later, you walk out on the floor and the question is, ‘What are they doing here?’”
The new House members had a somewhat more relaxing start to orientation — and not only because the media were corralled behind a velvet rope. The only official events on their schedules were checking in and an evening reception.
The new lawmakers trickled into the hotel throughout the day, lugging suitcases and checking in with staff from the House Administration Committee. Armed with their identification badges and a schedule, the new members were ready to take on the first day of orientation.
But some freshmen have already received help from their predecessors.
Around 2 p.m., Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart hopped out of a black SUV with Rep.-elect Carlos Curbelo, a fellow Florida Republican. Diaz-Balart said they were on the same flight from the Sunshine State and said he asked Curbelo, “Hey, you don’t have a ride? No? I’ll give you a ride.”
Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., who is retiring at the end of the 113th Congress, also rode to the hotel with his successor, Mark Walker, R-N.C., in a black SUV. The 83-year-old Coble, donning a straw hat, stayed in the car as Walker checked in.
Newly elected Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said her husband, retiring Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., hasn’t given her too much advice. She arrived at the hotel in a red dress and pearls, complete with two black bags, one bursting with binders. And though she is no stranger to the Hill, she said, “I’m just another freshman, learning the rules.”
Another familiar face was Frank Guinta, R-N.H., who was elected in 2010, only to lose his seat in 2012, before being elected again this November. He told CQ Roll Call that although he knows the ropes in the House, he is still looking forward to orientation.
“I think it’s always important to meet the new members and try to go through the process to learn as much as you possibly can and try to apply that,” Guinta said. “I’m enjoying it so far. Looking forward to seeing some old friends and making new ones.”
Many members said they were looking forward to meeting their fellow freshmen, though some have already engaged in some bipartisan banter.
Rep.-elect Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif., noted he is in the peculiar position of coming from a majority position in the California Legislature to a minority position in the House. Two of his fellow California state lawmakers joining him in the House, who are Republicans, have teased him about being in the minority.
One of those GOP California lawmakers was Rep.-elect Mimi Walters, who said she is adjusting to the East Coast. “I came from California, so I have to deal with that time change. It’s a little bit difficult to wake up in the morning,” Walters said.
While learning the rules of the House is on the agenda over the next week, other members said they first had to learn their way around the Capitol. Sporting blue jeans, Rep.-elect Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, said his first order of business was finding the restroom and the cafeteria.
Humberto Sanchez and Emma Dumain contributed to this report.
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