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Learning by Doing: New House Members Juggle Orientation and Governing

Brat was sworn in Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Brat was sworn in Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Newly elected House members filed into the Capitol Visitor Center auditorium Thursday morning to be briefed on how to run a congressional office, but three of them were already putting their operations into action.  

Three lawmakers elected on Nov. 4 were sworn into the House Wednesday night because they also won special elections where the seats were actually vacant. Now they have to find time between orientation events to vote on high-profile issues such as the Keystone XL Pipeline .  

“I mean, I’ve been preparing for a while, so I think we’re in good shape. But it is a lot to handle,” Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., told CQ Roll Call after he was sworn in. “We’re going through orientation right now. I’ll be voting tomorrow and so I’ll just, you know, vote on the principles I laid out in the campaign.” When asked how he was preparing, Brat began to explain his economics background, but was distracted trying to find a member of his staff, or “my crew.” The moment was emblematic of the chaotic week ahead for the new lawmakers trying to hire and wrangle staff, learn their way around the Capitol and jump into governing.  

Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., who became the 100th woman in Congress when she was elected, said juggling her lawmaking and orientation responsibilities is not a daunting task.  

“I’m going to be where I need to be. And I’ll be in the orientation as much as possible, but I’m not going to miss any votes on the floor so they’ll get me back and forth,” said Adams. “But you know, I’ve juggled all my life. I taught 40 years and I served 30 in public office so that’s not anything new.”  

Adams is settling into her plush office on the third floor of Rayburn formerly occupied by Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt, who left Congress to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  

One floor below her in Rayburn, Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., who also was sworn-in Wednesday, is set up in his predecessor’s office. Norcross replaced Democrat Robert E. Andrews, who resigned to work for a Philadelphia law firm.  

The lawmakers will probably have to relinquish the coveted office spaces at the end of the 113th Congress though, as the House office selection process is determined by seniority. So, if a more senior member wants to move into one of their offices, Adams, Norcross and Brat will have to move out by Dec. 1.  

But the three lawmakers have an advantage in office selection compared to the other new members. Since they are members of the 113th Congress, they will be able to select their office after the members who have served one term already. So they will not participate in next week’s lottery to determine which order freshmen pick their office spaces, meaning they can pick their offices before all of the new members.  

Of course, the three new members will have to adjust to their current offices in the meantime.  

Brat struggled getting into his office, formerly occupied by ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Wednesday evening following the new member reception. After a group of reporters followed him down the hall to ask a few questions, Brat faced a locked door in his office, a predicament quickly solved by a staffer with the key.  


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