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Ceremonies, Reflection and Chaos Define the First Day of Congress

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., gets on the Senate subway. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., gets on the Senate subway. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

For new members of the 114th Congress, their first day was a blur — and not just because the view of the Capitol was obscured by falling snow.  

New members juggled ceremonies, open houses in their offices and receptions, not to mention taking their oaths of office as they navigated the labyrinth halls of the Capitol Tuesday. “We’ve had a lot of competing places that I need to be,” said Rep. Martha E. McSally, R-Ariz., after she was sworn in. “The snow added to the logistical challenges, but we’re doing an open house and then [the oath] and then we’re getting a tour and some other stuff. But it’s all wonderful.”  

Despite the chaotic schedule, McSally, whose bid against Democratic Rep. Ron Barber was decided in a recount just 20 days ago, reminded herself that she had to stop and enjoy the moment.  

“I wanted to make sure I thoughtfully got up this morning and said, ‘Revel in this moment. This day only comes once,’” McSally said. “It still is sinking in. Honestly, I mean, just this morning when we were at the prayer service and coming in today, I’m like, ‘It’s real. I’m here.’”  

Though McSally had a longer journey to the House than others (her race lasted 1,049 days — she counted), her fellow freshman colleagues were also relishing their first day as lawmakers.  

Ask new members what it’s like being in Congress, and you’ll hear the common refrain, “It’s an honor.”  

Tuesday also brought other excitement for new members. In the morning, old and new lawmakers filed into the Speaker’s Lobby to pick up manila envelopes with their new congressional identification tags and pins.  

Some members took pleasure in the simpler things. “Seeing snow,” said California Rep. Ted Lieu, the Democratic freshman class president, when asked about the excitement of the day. “My kids don’t see snow in Los Angeles.”  

Lieu was flanked by his sons as he and fellow freshman Democrat Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania walked through the halls trying to find the Speaker’s Lobby. Their harried looks and brisk pace was common among new members as they tried — and sometimes failed — to find their next destination.  

“Is this the ladies’ room?” asked new Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, as he practically walked into the women’s restroom just outside the floor. Someone inside responded, “Yes.”  

“Well, where’s the men’s room?” Babin asked, to no avail. Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., replied, “How would I know that?”  

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, was spotted heading into the wrong room as she tried to find an Armed Services meeting while talking with a reporter. But they were eventually pointed in the right direction.  

Ernst faced another awkward moment later in the day, when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., accidentally called her by her husband’s name during the swearing-in reenactment in the Old Senate Chamber. But Ernst quickly reacted, correcting the vice president and laughing it off.  

She was set to meet with her fellow Iowans at a reception Tuesday night, according to her House GOP colleague David Young. He won’t have much trouble navigating the Capitol, since he knows the halls well from working as chief of staff for Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.  

But first, Young was on the hunt for some food. “Where do you find lunch around here?” Young asked with a laugh around 3 p.m. after he was sworn in. He added that he was “running on adrenaline.”  

The energy on the House side of the Capitol was palpable, with members walking about the floor, chatting with colleagues and entertaining their children to the floor.  

Adding to the excitement was the election for speaker, which took place before the entire House took the oath of office. Ohio Republican John A. Boehner was once again elected to the top spot in a vote that lasted less than two hours.  

On the other side of the Rotunda, though the floor was less crowded, the Senate chamber was also buzzing.  

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wasted no time getting to know his colleagues. He shook hands with GOP leaders and crossed the aisle to have a chat with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Jon Tester of Montana.  

Notably absent from the Senate was Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was at home per doctor’s orders  after injuring himself while exercising. Reid posted a video on YouTube explaining his absence, all the while sporting a bandage over his bruised eye.  

But other familiar faces were spotted. Retired senators, including Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, roamed around the floor, greeting colleagues. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., gave Harkin with a hug and said, “Hey, you’re back!”  

But, in true Senate fashion, the chamber quieted and proceeded to an orderly swearing-in ceremony where Biden administered the oath of office to the 34 senators elected or re-elected to the Senate.  

Though members, old and new, enjoyed the day’s festivities, they realized they now have a daunting task ahead: legislating. But many members seemed eager for the challenge.  

“It’s kind of hard to put into words. A lot of emotions go through you,” Young said, describing the first day. “It’s all about getting to work.”  

Alexis Levinson contributed to this report.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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