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Congress' Newest Members Come To Washington


There are still a few undecided races out there, but we do know that the 114th Congress will feature more than 70 members who are new to the House or Senate. This week and next, they'll take part in a time-honored Washington ritual, orientation. There will be sessions on House procedures, ethics guidelines and finally a lottery to determine who gets which office. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has been talking to some of the newly elected members as they arrive in Washington.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It looks a bit like freshman orientation for college or high school except with press secretaries and cameras - lots of cameras.


GONYEA: On the sidewalk in front of a Capitol Hill hotel, there's a canopy and a long table and a box full of welcome packets and badges. The sign reads, member elect registration. Many of the newcomers have served in elective office before at the state or local level, but some are from business, from academia, the military and there's a Baptist minister. Mimi Walters is a Republican legislator from Orange County, California, soon to take her place in the U.S. House.

CONGRESSMAN ELECT MIMI WALTERS: I've got a lot to do. I've got - you know, I have to resign my position as a State Senator. I have to move out of my apartment in Sacramento. I have to find a place to live here. I've got four kids. You know, I've got a lot on my plate.

GONYEA: They arrived one or two at a time all morning and into the afternoon. Most would come over just briefly to the microphones and the pack of reporters on the sidewalk nearby. Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat from Southfield, Michigan, is currently the mayor there. She'll represent parts of Detroit and its suburbs.

CONGRESSMAN ELECT BRENDA LAWRENCE: Well, the next few days is learning all of the rules, the ethics requirement, finding out where our office is and really getting to work.

GONYEA: Most said things close to that, but sometimes there's a remark that's maybe a little off message like this from another Michigan congressman elect, Republican Mike Bishop who will represent the sprawling eighth district.

CONGRESSMAN ELECT MIKE BISHOP: My first impression of Washington is that you all need to do something about your transportation. There's too many cars on the road.

GONYEA: Now, he's talking about D.C.'s terrible traffic congestion. Still, Bishop quickly backtracked, recognizing that such a comment might not sound so great to his constituents back home in the automobile state.

BISHOP: That really wasn't meant to be a policy statement. I was joking but...

GONYEA: In some ways, the press scrum outside could be seen as part of the training. The Republicans arriving far outnumber the Democrats among the new members, a product of last week's election results. Ryan Costello currently serves on the board of commissioners of Chester County, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. The Republican says in these weeks before he takes the oath, he's not worried so much about policy and how this session may play out.

CONGRESSMAN ELECT RYAN COSTELLO: What I'm most focused on is making sure that on day one, I have a good staff in place so that I'm delivering constituent services. So that's going to be my primary focus right up front.

GONYEA: One member of the new class has gone through this ritual before - New Hampshire Republican Frank Guinta was elected to the U.S. House in 2010, he lost in 2012 and won again this year. His advice as he checked in for his second freshman orientation in just four years...

CONGRESSMAN ELECT FRANK GUINTA: I've talked to a few of the incoming freshman, and I've said look, you know, enjoy this time through orientation. Don't make too many promises.

GONYEA: Probably not a bad suggestion, but it may be one of those things you can't learn in orientation classes. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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