New Members of Congress Begin Orientation

November 13, 2020 by Dan McCue
Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, arrives at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill for New Member Orientation. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – They came from Texas and Colorado and New York and New Mexico.

Some came in family SUVs, others in taxi cabs. But what they had in common as they arrived at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill on a gray and rainy Thursday in Washington was, they were starting the adventure of their lives.

A little more than a week ago, they were hopefuls, candidates for office vying for the chance to serve in the United States Congress.

Now they were taking the next step, in the shadow of the Capitol building in which they will work for at least the next two years.

New member orientation, which this year will consist of two sessions — the first of which began Thursday and will run through Nov. 21; the second from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5 — is a tradition that enables first-time lawmakers to learn the basics of the institution they are about to join.

Before they start their terms in January, these news members will need to hire staff, set up their offices and get a handle on how the House operates.

Arriving on the first day is almost exactly like arriving at one’s college dorm for the first time.

There are lots of new faces to meet, names to memorize, and bags of luggage to drop off in one’s room.

While most of the new members hustled by the members of the press who were assembled by the hotel entrance, a few encounters appeared to be a foreshadowing of things to come once the 117th Congress gets to work.

Controversial Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Republican from Georgia who was at one-time a QAnon conspiracy theorist, climbed out of a taxi-van with three men, all of them sans face masks. One of the men wore a MAGA hat.

After talking face-to-face with the driver, again sans face mask, Greene slipped on an American flag mask and made her way to the registration table.

When reporters called to her, Greene, who was also wearing shades, said simply, “I am not giving interviews at this time.”

On Friday she tweeted that the first session of new member orientation covered COVID in Congress.

“I proudly told my freshman class that masks are oppressive. In Georgia, we work out, shop, go to restaurants, go to work, and school without masks. My body, my choice. #FreeYourFace,” Greene said.

In marked contrast was Rep.-elect Cori Bush, a Democrat who is the first Black woman to be elected to Congress from Missouri.

Bush hesitated for a moment when reporters called to her, but then gamely came to the rope line separating reporters and dignitaries. She even smiled broadly when a member of the security detail suggested she move a little to her right to be in view of the television cameras.

Rep.-elect Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, arrives at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill for New Member Orientation. (Photo by Dan McCue)

Rumored to be a new member of the House progressive “squad” led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bush said she was excited to be in the new member class that included so many women.

“That’s why I’m wearing this,” she said, sweeping aside the ID that was hanging from her neck to reveal the words “Vote for Women” printed on her black sweatshirt.

Asked if she had any reservations about the fact at least 13 of the women in her class were Republicans, Bush said not at all, predicting they’ll find a way to work together.

As she spoke, she wore a face mask with Breonna Taylor’s name on it. Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville, Ky., police earlier this year during a raid on her apartment.

“Breonna is me and I am her,” Bush said when asked of the mask’s significance.

A day later she tweeted that the mask was causing some confusion among some of her new colleagues who mistakenly believed it was her name.

“It’s Day One, so I’m wearing my ‘Breonna Taylor’ mask. A few of my Republican colleagues have called me Breonna, assuming that’s my name. It hurts. But I’m glad they’ll come to know her name & story because of my presence here,” Bush tweeted.

Rep.-elect Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, actually was wearing a mask with her name on it.

When she arrived at the hotel, she stopped to shoot a cellphone video, thanking her supporters for making her dream come true and closing with “I’m ready to get to work.”

In a change from recent orientations, this year’s event is happening at a hotel on the Senate side of the Capitol campus. In past years the event has been held at a House-side hotel and one year, 2018, it was even held at a hotel near the Navy Yard.

Briefings organized by the House Administration Committee began Friday morning and will continue into the post-Thanksgiving second phase of the orientation that will end Dec. 5.

These sessions cover everything from office budgets to ethical guidelines to Capitol Hill parking policy.

This year a new program available to members-elect will compensate a staffer who will take the lead on setting up operations and manage logistics for their newly-elected boss.

The transition aide program was born out of a recommendation from the House’s Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. It is based on a program for new members of the Senate.

Transition aides are paid staffers who help get Washington and district operations underway for members-elect.

The House will cover expenses for transition aides to attend orientation, and the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer will cover up to $5,000 per month in salary expenses.

In addition, the aides will be issued a laptop and phone by the House, and given a email address.

Any salary beyond the approximately $60,000-a-year the transition aide will be making will be charged to the office budget of the member-elect at the start of the new Congress in January.

The climactic event of the orientation — the lottery at which offices are awarded — comes in early December.

While COVID and masks were the talk of the first day of the orientation, at least one new member — Rep.-elect Ashley Hinson, an Iowa Republican, is missing the in-person briefings due to her testing positive for the coronavirus.

“She feels great and is quarantining at her home in Marion until advised to do otherwise by her physician,” a statement from her office said. It added that she plans to attend the event virtually.

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