Orientation Staffers Prep for Freshman Class

Posted November 7, 2012 at 6:26pm

The day after any election is a busy one for people working in politics. But among the busiest on Wednesday might have been the staffers for the House Administration Committee.

In just six days, the freshman class of the 113th Congress will descend on Capitol Hill for New Member Orientation, a rite of passage for soon-to-be lawmakers in advance of their January swearings-in.

Steve Dutton, the interim Republican spokesman for the committee, said orientation is basically “being a Member of Congress: 101.”

“The Members-elect will participate in the office lottery selection, will be briefed on the rules of the House and House ethics rules, how to set up their offices and district offices, the process for hiring staff and understanding how their … budget works, etc.,” he explained.

Jamie Fleet, the Democratic staff director for the committee who is helping organize his third orientation, added that planning for the next orientation basically begins as soon as the previous orientation ends, seeking feedback from new Members while details are still fresh in their minds.

This year, the first half of orientation will run from Tuesday through Saturday. Events will pick back up on Tuesday, Nov. 27, and conclude on Friday, Dec. 1.

At press time, there were 75 new Members in the freshman class — 40 Democrats and 35 Republicans. With votes still trickling in from some close races, a few more are likely to be added to the group.

It is already a class of idiosyncrasies. For one, there are four new Members who, while considered freshmen, will be sworn in next week because their special elections to fill vacant seats coincided with Tuesday’s general election. They are Democratic Reps-elect. Donald Payne Jr. (N.J.) and Suzan DelBene (Wash.) and Republican Rep.-elect Thomas Massie (Ky.). Michigan Democrat Dave Curson will also be sworn in next week but will serve only during the lame duck since he won only the special election to fill out the remainder of ex-Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s (R) term. Republican Rep.-elect Kerry Bentivolio will be sworn in to replace Curson in January with the rest of the freshman class to serve a full two years.

And there are a handful of veteran Democrats who lost in the Republican wave of 2010 but won back their seats. Much of the information disseminated at orientation might not be new to them, but they are still required to attend.

Orientation is sold as a good opportunity for new Members to meet one another, select their office space and look for a place to live if they opt not to sleep on a cot in the office.

Members-elect also participate in leadership elections and meet and greets with top brass in their party and, perhaps most pressing, use their time in Washington, D.C., to start staffing up.

That process might be streamlined for Democrats this year. On Wednesday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) announced the launch of a résumé bank at democraticwhip.gov/resumes, where anyone can submit résumés to be viewed by new and existing House Democratic offices.

“For the large freshman class of Democrats … this will be a useful tool as they set up their offices and hire staff members,” according to a statement from Hoyer’s office.

There are still details to be sorted out before Tuesday, such as where in the Capitol Visitor Center the orientation will be held. Organizers also need to nail down the number of rooms to be reserved — each Member gets a room, along with one aide.

Not knowing the exact size of the new class and how it will break along party lines — and having to make arrangements regardless of these unknowns — is what makes orientation planning, in Fleet’s words, “half science, half art.”

Correction: Nov. 8, 12:06 p.m.

An earlier version of this story misidentified one of the Members-elect who will be sworn in for the lame-duck session. The Representative-elect from Michigan is Dave Curson (D).