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As lame-duck Congress gathers, new class gets intro to Washington

November 13, 2012|By Kim Geiger | This post has been corrected. See below for details.
  • The U.S. Capitol in Washington.
The U.S. Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

WASHINGTON — After a grueling campaign season that left the Capitol all but deserted for nearly two months, the House and Senate were buzzing for the start of the lame-duck session.

As senators and congressmen trickled into their offices Tuesday, the newly elected class of House members was checking into a hotel down the street, preparing for a marathon introduction to the ways of Washington. On the agenda: seminars on ethics and parliamentary procedure, a class photo, dinners and meet-and-greets, and an office space lottery.

And that’s the easy part.

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In the coming weeks, the newcomers will be hiring staff and maneuvering for committee assignments, key decisions that will set the agenda for their first term and beyond.

“It’s been a blur” of activity, said Bill Enyart, a newly elected Illinois Democrat, as he strolled through the Capitol with his wife, Annette.

“It’s a lot of information,” said Randy Weber, a Texas Republican state legislator who will succeed retiring Rep. Ron Paul.

Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who will succeed retiring Rep. Heath Shuler, said his first day in Washington had been a “whirlwind.”

“Coming off a 15-month campaign, we thought we’d get some rest and relaxation, but it’s actually been a lot of work,” Meadows said.

The class of at least 79 new members in the 113th Congress is smaller than the 94-member class that swept into town after the 2010 election, but the two combined will make up more than a third of the new House.

Members from both classes will meet Friday, when those who were elected in 2010 will offer advice about setting up offices and selecting staff.

The new class will add great diversity to a Congress that has slowly become less male and less white, though primarily on the Democratic side of the aisle. For the first time in history, the Democratic caucus in the House will not be a majority of white males, a milestone that was touted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and New York Rep. Steve Israel, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, at a news conference welcoming newly elected Democrats.

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“Our caucus looks like America,” Israel said, after repeating a quip that has been flying around Washington, that the Republican caucus “looks like a rerun of the show 'Mad Men.' ”

Some of the newcomers hope their diverse backgrounds might help them land plum committee assignments.

Joyce Beatty, a newly elected Democrat from Ohio, has been eyeing the Financial Services Committee. The industry employs many people in her central Ohio district.

“I’m female, I’m African American, I have a background in small business,” she said. “So I think I have a lot of skill sets for it.... So I’m putting it out there.”

Tony Cardenas, an electrical engineer and businessman who will be the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley, arrived Tuesday morning on an overnight flight.

Cardenas said he was pleased to have secured one of the most valuable items a person can possess in the well-secured Capitol: a badge.

“For the first time, I didn’t have to fill out a little paper and show my ID when I walked into the building,” he said with a smile.

Weber, the Texas Republican, concurred with that sentiment.

“There’s a bit more security here than in the Texas Legislature,” Weber said. “Getting around Washington is going to take some getting used to.”

Meanwhile, the much smaller class of Senate newcomers made its introductions Tuesday. Republicans Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ted Cruz of Texas met privately with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and posed for pictures. Democrats Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Tim Kaine of Virginia were also seen roaming the halls.

Angus King, the independent senator-elect from Maine, met with Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who is also from Maine. While King is expected to caucus with Democrats, he won’t announce his decision until later in the week.

For outgoing members, the first day of the lame-duck session is a time to field questions about their future plans. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, in an attempt to avoid a reporter “stampede,” called a news conference at which he refused to rule out the possibility of another Senate run. (Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry is considered a possible replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a move that would open his seat.)

“We’ll see what happens,” Brown said. “I’m not even thinking about it right now.”

Brown said he had his staff reach out to Warren, his successor, to ensure a “smooth transition.”

Also on Tuesday, three new House members were sworn into office, each to replace members who resigned midterm. Suzan DelBene, a Washington Democrat, and Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, officially joined the chamber and would stay on to serve their own two-year terms starting in January.

But Michigan Democrat David Curson’s stay would be much shorter. Curson won a special election to replace Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who resigned abruptly earlier this year after he failed to qualify for the Republican ballot for reelection. Curson will finish McCotter’s term, but Republican Kerry Bentivolio, who won the general election for the next term in that district, will take over in January.

[FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post stated that Mark Meadows had defeated North Carolina Rep. Health Shuler. Shuler did not run for another term. Meadows won the election to replace him.]

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kim.geiger@latimes.com

Twitter: @kimgeiger

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