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Harvard Welcomes New Members With 4-Day Orientation

It isn’t easy for new members of Congress to sit down and talk openly with lawmakers from the other side of the aisle — cameras are ever-present, reporters are never far away and there isn’t exactly a lot of love between the two major parties.

Enter the Harvard Institute of Politics. The Boston-based institute holds a conference every two years to give new members a chance to get to know each other away from the media glare on Capitol Hill, before they officially take office.

“When you get a … bipartisan group of members in a room without the spotlight of the world on them and they’re just sitting around talking to each other, it’s amazing to hear the conversations you hear Republicans having with Democrats,” said Christian Flynn, the Harvard IOP director of Conferences and Special Projects.

In 1972, when the conference started, there were just four members who attended. This year there are four organizations — the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Congressional Institute — are partnering with Harvard to orientate the members.

In 1972, those four members stayed at Harvard for a whole month. These days, the most you can expect is the four days.

“Can you imagine ever having a new member of Congress go anywhere for a month, let alone come to Harvard?” Flynn asked.

New members get a crash course in contemporary issues and what they may need to worry about in the future. The conference sessions are led by academics, policy analysts, practitioners and current and former members of Congress, according to a press release. Topics covered include the federal budget, the global economy, terrorism and navigating the legislative process.

How to survive the “hustle and bustle” of Washington is covered, too. It’s a college orientation on steroids for the nation’s freshman lawmakers.

“Some of it ends up being, ‘Oh, I need a roommate, do you need a roommate?’” Flynn said.

Family members can attend, Flynn said, but there’s a rule on plus ones: “No staffers allowed.”

The Harvard Institute of Politics was founded in 1966 as a memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The institute is paid for by a Harvard endowment — the partners don’t contribute cash — and all new members, including recent special-election winners, are invited. The program takes place from Dec. 2 through Dec. 5, and kicks of with a dinner.

Correction 5:53 p.m. An earlier version of this post misstated how many organizations are partnering with Harvard for the orientation. This post has also been updated to reflect the uncertainty of how many members will attend.  

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