After a frantic Tuesday of checking into the Capitol Hill Hotel, catching up on sleep lost during long journeys to Washington, D.C., and attending a reception at the Library of Congress, the members-elect of the 113th Congress were ready to work Wednesday.
Some of them, however, were already running late for their first session of New Member Orientation.
A handful of lawmakers-to-be and their staffers ran frantically across the green of the East Front, bundled in coats and scarves to fight against the morning chill and looking for the best way into the Capitol Visitor Center. Freshman Democrats were unavoidably detained from the opening briefing on House rules and ethics as their caucus was holding a meeting and press conference.
The hazards of still learning the way around the labyrinthine Capitol campus and trying to juggle a packed schedule at the same time were becoming all too clear to the lawmakers-to-be.
It will be a particular challenge for Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., these first few weeks. Having won a special election to finish up the term of her predecessor, former Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, as well as the general election to serve in the next Congress, DelBene was sworn in Tuesday and is already at work serving her district, taking votes and interviewing staff members.
“It has been a little bit hectic,” DelBene admitted, “but it helps to have a lot of people around you who are being supportive and helpful, making sure I have all the information I need and that I’m ready to go over when we have votes.”
Rep.-elect Dina Titus of Nevada, along with other Democrats in what she calls the “Comeback Caucus,” is returning to Capitol Hill after being ousted in the Republican wave of 2010. She has somewhat of an advantage amid the chaos of New Member Orientation: She’s been through this before and even said she is speaking with some of her former staffers to return to her team in January.
Titus and Rep.-elect Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., another member of that unofficial returning members’ caucus, said the orientation seminars were worth attending to meet new colleagues and get up to speed on the ethics changes, such as the STOCK Act, that have been implemented since they were last in Congress.
In interviews with Roll Call after the first presentation broke for caucus lunches, other members-elect shared different impressions of what they had learned so far.
“I serve on the board of trustees of a university, and I was kind of worried. … I hoped I wouldn’t have to step down. I learned I don’t have to,” said Rep.-elect Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who also said the ethics briefing answered questions about what spouses of lawmakers should and should not do.
“There are a lot of exceptions to things,” said Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who found out she had won a too-close-to-call election Monday while she was on a plane. “Lots of rules and a lot of exceptions to the rules. So it’s kind of complex. But luckily we have a binder with all the information so we’ll be fine.”
Rep.-elect Tom Cotton, an Army veteran, said he had experience sitting through presentations like these.
“Death by PowerPoint,” the Arkansas Republican called it.