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Freshman Orientation For Congress' New Class

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Freshman Orientation For Congress' New Class

Politics

Freshman Orientation For Congress' New Class

Freshman Orientation For Congress' New Class

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On Sunday, Washington welcomed the freshman class of the 111th Congress. Walt Minnick, a Democrat who will represent Idaho's 1st Congressional District, talks to host Andrea Seabrook about his particular brand of conservative liberalism.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's All Things Considered. I'm Andrea Seabrook. Here in Washington, the halls of Congress will be buzzing this week, or maybe I should say quacking. The 110th Congress is coming back for one last hoorah, a lame-duck session. We'll talk about what might or might not happen in a few minutes. But first, it's not just the lame ducks flying into Washington today. Also coming to town, the freshmen.

Mr. KYLE ANDERSON (Communications Director, House Administration Committee): This is the new member-elect registration area.

SEABROOK: Kyle Anderson is the communications director for the House Administration Committee. He's showing me around this alcove in a Capitol Hill hotel where staffers are busily organizing name badges, schedules, packets. He says it's going to be a busy few days.

Mr. ANDERSON: It's, actually - I've heard the analogy of trying to drink from a fire hose. It's a very extensive and intensive few days of orientation on the things that they need to do to manage their offices well and to establish their offices, the nuts and bolts and basic things like computer systems and healthcare and, you know, member pay and benefits and how to organize your office, selecting staff. And then there are also the organizational meetings that they'll have with their respective leadership teams.

SEABROOK: The first congressman-elect to show up, Walter Minnick of Idaho.

Representative-elect WALTER MINNICK (Democrat, Idaho): We're getting name tags, registration packets, and the order of events for our first day, a couple of receptions and a tour of the Capitol tonight.

SEABROOK: Minnick is an interesting politician. He was once a Republican, now a Democrat, and he's from a state that has sent only two Democrats to Washington in the last four decades. So, I pull him aside from the hubbub for a little chat.

SEABROOK: How does it feel coming in as a new member of Congress?

Rep.-elect MINNICK: Well, I was here years ago as a young man as a staffer for President Nixon, so it's kind of familiar. But a lot has happened to Washington in 35 years, also.

SEABROOK: Yeah, including you going from being a Republican to a Democrat.

Rep.-elect MINNICK: Well, I think the party kind of left me. I was a fiscal conservative, a social moderate, and very cautious about foreign involvements. And I think none of those things have characterized the - at least, the national Republican Party the last administration or two.

SEABROOK: You'll be in the majority party this fall with a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House, a Democratic president, but the district you represent is pretty conservative. So, how are you going to fit in in this government?

Rep.-elect MINNICK: Well, I have good relations with our governor, who's a Republican, the two senators, who are Republicans, and the other congressman, who is a Republican, and I think we're going to work closely together and work both sides of the political street for the benefit of our state and the interests out there.

So, I'm expecting to spend a lot of time with my Republican colleagues figuring out how we can work Democrats, Republicans, and this Democratic administration to do things that are important for my district, my state, and hopefully, the country, as well.

SEABROOK: There's some expectation that, with Democrats in charge of all of the elective government, anyway, that there will be a very liberal agenda put into place. How do you feel about that?

Rep.-elect MINNICK: Well, I'm one of 52 blue dog Democrats, and we're all pretty conservative. I expect that any liberalism that comes from big cities is going to have to be run through this conservative gauntlet in order to get a majority. So, I think we'll have a middle-of-the-road, practical, common-sense approach to jobs and the economy and the other big issues we'll be facing shortly.

SEABROOK: Tell me about coming to freshman orientation. Do you feel like a freshman?

Rep.-elect MINNICK: Well, I think I'm the oldest freshman here. I'm 66-years- old, and the youngest, I believe, is 29. So, it's been a long time since I've been in school.

SEABROOK: Washington is talking a lot right now about the presidential transition. President-elect Obama is setting up his staff and so on and so forth. What's it like for a congressional transition? What are you doing right now?

Rep.-elect MINNICK: Well, I found an apartment yesterday, and we're going to be interviewing staff members and hopefully, get an office selected. It's kind of like moving to town to any new job. It's a lot of rather practical and ordinary things to do, and it's no different for a congressman coming to town than anybody else getting a new job in a new place.

SEABROOK: But what is the first order of business as a congressman?

Rep.-elect MINNICK: Well, right now, I'm trying to get on some committees that will be important to my district. We're supposed to get our selection preferences in today, and we'll find out what committee assignments we get and where our offices are and that sort of thing later in the week.

SEABROOK: What's that jockeying like for committee assignments? What are you going for, and how do you try and get on a committee?

Rep.-elect MINNICK: A freshman, no matter how old he is, isn't going to be on appropriations or one of the key committees that people fight for years to get on. But, well, I hope to get on agriculture, and I've got a pretty rural district with forestry and agriculture of all types, so that's a logical fit. I'm a businessman. I've run a couple of companies, and I know a little bit about finance, so I may get up - I think I'm going to ask for financial services.

But I talked to committee chair, I talk to staff, I talk to other members of Congress and sort of sort things out. I want to do something I know something about and something that's important to my district.

SEABROOK: Walter Minnick, the congressman-elect from Idaho's first district. Thanks very much, sir.

Rep.-elect MINNICK: Thank you. I appreciate being here.

SEABROOK: I spoke with Congressman-elect Walter Minnick today as he registered for new member orientation to the 111th Congress of the United States.

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