GOP leadership warns freshmen about the press and ethics traps

The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.

In a 144-page how-to House guidebook titled Hit the Ground Running, House Republican leaders advise the soon-to-be-freshmen on a range of issues both big and small.

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The book, compiled by No. 2-ranked House GOP Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.) and provided to The Hill by his office, seeks to educate GOP congressmen-elect on the many challenges they face in the coming months.

In the introduction, Cantor writes, “A new member’s first term is critically important, especially for those whom have just won with a narrow margin. This manual is designed to get you on the right track right off the bat and will help you avoid common early mistakes and pitfalls.”
 


Examples of the advice:


• “Read and re-read the U.S. Constitution.”

• “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘No.’ ”

•“Don’t try to learn everything on day one.”

• “A member of Congress cannot order a federal agency to do something or decide a matter a certain way. … You may not directly or indirectly threaten reprisal against any federal agency officials, or promise favoritism or benefit.”

• “Always assume you’re on camera when you are in the Chamber. Even if you are simply looking at your cell phone, you might appear to be asleep. It’s happened to other members.” (Advice from Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss.)

• “Don’t talk to the press about committee assignments or be overconfident about what committee assignments you will receive.”

• “Don’t tolerate or enable ethical missteps. They are one of the easiest ways to short-circuit a congressional career.”

Cantor noted in the book that that he received a similar manual from then-Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) shortly after he was elected in 2000. An aide confirmed that Cantor still has a copy of Armey’s document.

While Republicans have crafted these types of documents for other classes, this year’s guide is especially important because the incoming class has catapulted the GOP to the majority party in the lower chamber. And Democrats will be targeting many of these incoming freshmen in 2012.

Rep.-elect Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) told The Hill that he received his copy shortly after Election Day, and considers it extremely helpful.

The reference book is divided into three sections chronologically: Election Day to orientation; orientation to swearing-in; and swearing-in to the “End of Your First Year.” It tackles a wide range of topics, including how to win a committee assignment, set up a House office and incorporate spouses into the congressional life.

Ethics is touched on throughout the book: “If you don’t want to see an activity or event reported on the front page of the local newspaper, don’t do it.”

Republicans lost control of the House in 2006 due in large part to ethical scandals.

“It is important to keep in mind that even if you haven’t violated any rules, the appearance of impropriety can be just as damaging. So always be certain that everything you do as a member is — and appears to be — above board,” the manual states.

Margin notes with titles such as “Insider Tip,” Important Note” and “Key Takeaway” are sprinkled throughout the comprehensive guide.

Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring told The Hill that “the new Republican majority will include more than 80 newly elected members who are itching to cut spending, rein in government and restore certainty to the private sector so that people can get back to work. Efforts to ensure that the transition from candidate to congressperson is quick and seamless is vital to those efforts and will help us to deliver real results.”

The lawmakers-to-be are warned repeatedly that the press is always lurking.

“Be cognizant that you are often on TV when on the House floor. Checking of e-mails on your BlackBerry can often wind up in the press,” one “Insider Tip” states.
Harper, a freshman class steering committee member, warned his future colleagues that the spotlight of media scrutiny burns bright on Capitol Hill.

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Harper suggested a way to avoid dealing with members of the press: go underground when heading to the House floor for votes.

“Certain members of the media will be looking to ‘ambush’ unsuspecting freshmen as they walk to the Capitol to vote. If it’s a contentious issue and you don’t wish to be interviewed, then take the tunnel,” Harper advises in a testimonial letter under the “Wrap-Up” portion of the book with lessons learned in “hindsight.”

Under the subchapter on “Being an Effective Floor Member,” the manual recommends that members know the answer to two important questions before casting a vote on the House floor: “Be prepared for two eventual questions every time you cast your vote on the House floor: did you read the bill, and is it constitutional?”

GOP lawmakers campaigned on the promise to provide enough time for members and the public to read legislation before the final vote.

Another “Insider Tip” states, “It is not uncommon these days for members to be quizzed on the Constitution at town halls and other constituent meetings. The more constitutional knowledge that you obtain, the better.”

As for setting up their new congressional offices, the manual emphasizes that new members should avoid the temptation to micromanage. The first thing they should do is hire a qualified chief of staff and then let him or her deal with most of the office’s administrative duties, according to Cantor.

“Hiring a chief of staff is the most important decision you will make as a new member of Congress. … In this environment, hiring the wrong COS, even for a short time, can have tremendously negative effects.”

 The manual also stresses that hiring members of the GOP is vital: “Hire Republicans: Loyalty Matters and it will be extremely difficult to engender loyalty if staffers are not committed to your philosophy. A non-Republican is likely to be unhappy working for you.”

Under legislative goals, the House GOP leadership urges caution: “If your legislation creates a new program, or increases spending, stop and ask yourself [if] it’s worth borrowing 40 cents of every dollar spent.”

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