Freshmen get taste of Capitol Hill life

Greg Nash

Wednesday was the congressional equivalent of the first day of school for 60 incoming House freshmen, as they juggled hiring decisions, housing searches and newfound fame. 

Members-elect, their families and staff checked into the Capitol Hill Hotel for the weeklong freshman orientation, many lugging giant suitcases. They spent the day learning their way around the Capitol, attending a welcome reception and gathering first impressions of fellow members and leaders.

{mosads}A bright-eyed Rep.-elect Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) hadn’t even gotten his bearings, when reporters pelted him with questions in front of the hotel. He rose early Wednesday morning at his home in West Chester, played with his 11-month-old son, caught a train from Wilmington, Del., to D.C., dropped his bags off at the hotel, then stepped before a bank of TV cameras.

Costello, a county commissioner, said he’s most interested to meet fellow Pennsylvania freshman Brendan Boyle, a Democrat in a neighboring district.

“In my role as county commissioner, I take pride in working with the other side,” said Costello, 38. “Obviously, we have principles where you can’t come to agreement on something — that’s one thing. But I do think new members should be focused on areas where we can find agreement and where we can move this country forward.”

While most of the soon-to-be members of Congress will have two months to prepare to take office in January, three hit the ground running Wednesday evening. Reps. Dave Brat (R-Va.), Alma Adams (D-N.C.) and Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) were sworn in during the first House votes of the lame-duck session to fill vacancies.

The three lawmakers still have to finish hiring staff and acclimate to Capitol Hill, even as they’re already on the job. 

Adams, for instance, will only get to enjoy the plum office space of her predecessor, now-Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt (D), with its spectacular views of the Capitol for a few weeks, until a more senior colleague wins the space in the office lottery next Wednesday.

The need to serve out the remainder of Watt’s term meant Adams didn’t have much time to get ready to become a member of Congress eight days after winning the special and general elections.

“I had to speed up my packing and all those other kinds of things the other members have a little more time to do,” Adams said.

There were also other symbolic gestures of passing the torch. Retiring longtime Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), sporting a cap and plaid sports coat, was spotted dropping off his successor, ordained minister and fellow Republican Mark Walker, at the hotel.

Walker told reporters he’s not ready to endorse the slate of House GOP leaders yet.

“We’re willing to get behind whoever comes out of there, but we want to make sure that’s the best choice and the best representation,” Walker said.

Apart from freshman orientation, events scheduled for this week and next, members are also scoping out places to live while they’re in Washington.

Rep.-elect Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who was disembarking from his car after a three-and-a-half-hour drive from New Jersey, said his wife and nephew would be looking at potential homes away from home over the next week.

At least two members-elect didn’t rule out living in their offices. Rep.-elect Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said he would stay with a friend in the D.C. area to start.

“I think there might be some couch surfing in my immediate future,” Moulton laughed. 

Rep.-elect Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) was also on the fence about potentially living in his office when he’s in Washington, given the high cost of living.

“I still have sticker shock. It’s a little more expensive than in northwest Georgia,” Loudermilk joked.

Incoming members are also using the next several weeks to hire office staffers when their terms start in January.

“Dozens of resumes were flowing in, basically as the results were coming in, so we need to make sure we’re hiring the best possible staff to be able to represent our district,” said Rep.-elect Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who ousted Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop from his Long Island seat. 

Other freshmen have already gone through this experience before. Rep.-elect Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), who served one term in the House from 2011-2013, said he’d already doled out advice to the newcomers. 

“I’ve talked to a few of the incoming freshmen, and I’ve said, ‘Enjoy this time during orientation. Don’t make too many promises. Make sure you listen and learn.’ And I’ve offered my experience if they need some help,” Guinta said.

The New Hampshire Republican said he felt more prepared to take office after having already served a term in Congress.

“You kind of know what the pitfalls are, what the challenges are,” Guinta said.

Other freshmen who’ve been around Capitol Hill for years insist they’ve still got lots to learn. Rep.-elect Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) will replace her husband, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of Congress in history, who is retiring after 60 years in the House.  

“I’ve got to learn how to run an office,” Dingell said. “I’m just another freshman learning the rules.”


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