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1 Down, 5 to Go: Senate Freshmen Reflect on First Year

Senate freshmen meet the press during orientation in 2015. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Senate freshmen meet the press during orientation in 2015. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate freshmen have made it through the first year of their six-year terms, and they’ve learned a lot about the world’s greatest deliberative body in their roughly 14 months in office.  

The cohort of newcomers, 12 Republicans and one Democrat, had a year-long lesson in Senate procedures and traditions, and many said they learned the importance of relationship-building in a chamber where a single senator has the power to stop proceedings. And they also had some good times along the way. Here are a few of their memories from year one: Cheer Up, Charlie:  “Getting sworn in is just an amazing day,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. But not everyone was so happy about it. She stood with her immediate family for the ceremonial swearing-in with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and her grandson, Charlie, who was around one and half at the time was sleeping. When they woke him up to take pictures, he began to cry, and Biden tried unsuccessfully to cheer him up.  

“Maybe the analogy is, it’s a wonderful, awesome responsibility, but for some people it’s not so great and it’s a strain on the family or something,” Capito said with a laugh.  

#StandWithRand : Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said one of his favorite memories was when he was presiding over the Senate, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was giving a marathon speech. While Paul was talking, a staffer came in carrying tennis shoes with neon green laces. “The staffer just kind of subtly shoves it to him, and as he’s talking, he takes his shoes off and puts on his tennis shoes,” Gardner said. “I’m like, ‘C-SPAN viewers never had a clue what he was doing, and I’m laughing.'”  

Shaken, Not Stirred: Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said he realized he was not in Kansas — er, the House — anymore when he got a strange inquiry from the cloakroom, asking how he likes his water. Apparently staff prepares water for a senator’s podium for when he or she is giving a speech, and they wanted to know if he wanted ice. “I served for six years in the House,” said Peters. “No one has asked me how I liked my water. It’s just like, ‘There’s a cooler in the corner, if you’d like.'”  

Livin’ on a Prayer: Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., had a very unique experience during a late-night session in May. Lankford, who used to run a Baptist youth camp, gave the prayer to open the midnight session. “That’s just nothing but fun and just a joy for me to do,” Lankford said.  

Dis-oriented:  Seven of the Senate freshmen are former House members, so they were a little surprised when their Senate orientation differed from the regimented House welcome, which includes lengthy sessions on policy and the inner workings of House offices. “The Senate [orientation] was like doing trust falls. It really was,” Gardner joked. “You’d sit in the room and you’d talk about what it was like to be in the Senate.”  

Moving in:  An unwelcome discovery for new senators was how long it took to move into their offices. The House, which moves hundreds of offices at the start of each Congress, has a finely honed moving system in place. The Senate, true to form, moves slower, and senators reside in temporary offices for several months. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he didn’t move in until June.  

Low Rank, Low Stress: Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is the lowest-ranking senator, and he’s OK with that.”You know in many ways I found it very easy to be number 100 because people are concerned, ‘Oh what office am I going to get?'” said Sullivan. “Well, when you’re number 100, you just get what’s left.”  

A Mr. Smith Moment: Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said an “‘aha’ moment” for him was when his class walked on the Senate floor together for the first time, and the gravity of the office started to sink in. “It was very sobering. It got real quiet,” Perdue said “None of us were talking. We were the only ones in the chamber.”  

No Comment: One senator did decline to spill some gossip. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who is ranked 99 out of 100 senators, was asked if he had any specific anecdotes when he realized the Senate was unique place to work. And he responded in a statement, “I could probably make a few jokes about the Senate gym but as #99 I’ll bite my tongue.”


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