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Freshmen Get a Frontline Role

A Member of Congress’ freshman year is usually spent developing a strong platform and voting record to make the case for a second term. But House Republicans, in their depleted state, have turned to the freshman class as an important tool in their effort to rebrand the GOP.

Unlike many of their Democratic counterparts, most House Republicans elected in 2008 hail from safe conservative districts, leaving them free to delve into party politics usually reserved for veteran lawmakers.

As part of a GOP leadership campaign to characterize the Democratic majority in Congress as secretive and tyrannical, several GOP freshmen said at a Tuesday press conference that their inexperience in the ways of Washington, D.C., gives them credibility to push the issue of transparency and government openness.

“As a freshman Member of the House, I [was] disappointed earlier this year when the Democrat leadership refused to allow Members of Congress to read and reflect on landmark legislation,— Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio) said. “The Republican freshman class wants to be part of the solution. We want to help foster a more open and transparent and accountable debate in the House of Representatives.—

[IMGCAP(1)]“This is only my first year in Washington, but if this is business as usual then it’s time for business to change,— Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) added.

“We haven’t been tainted yet,— Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) said.

Tuesday’s event was not the first time GOP leaders have sought to spotlight the views and the relative legislative purity of the freshmen. Last week, the Republican Study Committee held a press conference on the war in Afghanistan that featured freshmen who are military veterans.

In March, GOP freshmen introduced legislation ordering the Treasury to recoup bonuses given to executives at American International Group — and they frequently made the point that they were uninvolved in the October 2008 financial bailout.

One Democratic leadership aide acknowledged that freshman Democrats typically do not get involved in leadership-backed messaging campaigns because they are advised to focus on their districts.

“They are from districts that demand them to be very independent,— the aide said. “It seems to me [Republican freshmen] are much more partisan [and vote] overwhelmingly with their party.—

The aide added that unlike Republicans, Democratic freshmen have worked with and at times voted with Republicans on several key issues.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said the GOP freshmen are effective in part because they are enthusiastic and have recently been on the campaign trail.

“They have no baggage,— he said.

“New Members of Congress have a fresh perspective and sense of outrage that makes them particularly effective messengers on issues like transparency and reading the bills,— said Michael Steel, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), said that while the messengers’ faces were new, the message was unchanged and unproductive.

“We inherited a mess from the previous administration, and our guys are trying to fix it,— Thornell said. “Bickering, complaining and saying no won’t solve anyone’s problems back home.—