New Faces Coming To Capitol Hill Every two years we get a fresh batch of ambitious people in Washington, and this time around the climate in the Senate seems ready to change.
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New Faces Coming To Capitol Hill

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New Faces Coming To Capitol Hill

New Faces Coming To Capitol Hill

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Congress returns to work this coming week, and there will be a lot of new faces, thanks to the November elections. There's a sense of change in the air, at least in the rank and file, if not among the top leaders. Joining us to talk about the new mood on Capitol Hill is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Liane.

HANSEN: You know, every two years, there's a fresh batch of ambitious people arriving in Washington. But this time, actually, it seems the climate in the Senate is ready to change. What's going on there?

ELVING: What's going on is we're getting 13 or 14 new faces in the Senate. That's quite a few. It's one seat in seven. And it's come because of a series of retirements, a series of incumbents who lost in November, all of them Republicans, and then because since the election we've had Barack Obama leave the Senate, his running mate Joe Biden leaving the Senate, the likely Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is likely then to resign, and also Ken Salazar, who's joining the Cabinet as interior secretary, resigning his seat from Colorado. So, all these people have to be replaced. And that means we're going to see, depending on the situation in Minnesota, either 13 or 14 fresh faces in the Senate.

HANSEN: Who are you watching among the new people?

ELVING: You know, this is a very interesting class. We haven't talked about Al Franken, who's still battling it out in Minnesota to see whether or not he's going to win his seat. If he is, in fact, certified the winner - he does seem to be ahead by several score of votes out of 2.9 million cast - if he does become a member of this freshmen class, he will certainly be one to watch. And the Republicans are doing everything they can to make sure he's not around to watch.

But then beyond that, I think even if we got a Caroline Kennedy or an Al Franken, there are still going to be some other people who ought to get some media attention. I'm thinking particularly here about Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska has been very much in the news of late. And here's a guy who has knocked off Ted Stevens, the absolute monument to Republican incumbency, the senior-most Republican, the longest serving Republican in history, and there he was defeated for re-election in November. So Mark Begich is somebody to watch.

Also, let's watch the Udall cousins. They are able and attractive gentlemen from Colorado and New Mexico, who had very famous fathers. Mark of Colorado is, of course, the son of Moe Udall, a longtime congressman, a lot of people's favorite congressman over the last several decades. And Tom Udall of Mexico was Stewart Udall's son. He was, of course, secretary of the interior back in the Camelot Kennedy days. So they're going to be very interesting.

Also, keep an eye on the women who defeated Republican incumbents in longtime red states back in November. That would include Jean Shaheen in New Hampshire, who defeated John Sununu, and Kay Hagan in North Carolina, who defeated Elizabeth Dole.

HANSEN: We spent a considerable amount of time in the Senate. What's going on in the House?

ELVING: You know, in the House, one person sure to be noticed is the Republican coming from New Orleans, and his name is Anh Cao, C-A-O. He goes by Joseph. He is a Vietnamese American and the first Vietnamese American to be elected to Congress. He is a Republican, and he defeated longtime incumbent Bill Jefferson. Yes, the same Bill Jefferson indicted in a selling of one's office case, a corruption case. We'll watch to see how long he lasts and what he does in the time that he has in the House.

HANSEN: How many other new Republicans are in the House?

ELVING: More than you might think in a big Democratic year. There are 22 new Republican freshmen. That's because you get a lot of Republicans replacing other Republicans who retired.

HANSEN: Are there individual House members you'll be watching?

ELVING: Well, the new kid on the block is Aaron Shock of Colorado. He is just 27 years old, and he is coming into a seat there in Colorado that has been a traditionally Republican seat. No big surprise there. The oldest new House member is going to be a Democrat from Alabama named Parker Griffith, who is just elected to his first term at the age of 66. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Congressman Aaron Shock is not from Colorado. He actually represents Illinois' 18th District.]

Now, possibly the richest member is Jared Polis of Boulder, Colorado - at least the richest new member of Congress, who is said to be worth something like $200 million. He is in his early 30s, and he's an entrepreneur - quite successful one, obviously. And also the first openly gay freshmen male elected to Congress. We do have one lesbian member of Congress who was elected as an out lesbian, but all other gay members of Congress who have served have come out only after first being elected.

HANSEN: New members of Congress to watch this coming week. NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thanks a lot.

ELVING: Thank you, Liane.

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