At last week’s orientation sessions for new members joining the 113th Congress, Foster was sporting the gold-and-red lapel pin worn by lawmakers during the 111th Congress. “This pin voted for TARP and the health-care reform law,” he said. “I don’t have a pin from the tea party Congress, something I will never miss.”
Already familiar with the mechanics of Congress, Foster joked that during orientation sessions, “I’m sort of that big dumb guy who’s been held back who sits in the back of the room making wisecracks.”
A physicist and amateur iPad app developer, Foster predicted that this year’s election results will force his GOP colleagues to relent on certain issues.
“If they don’t compromise on things like the ‘fiscal cliff’ and immigration reform, then in two years they will be seen as a party that has produced not two years of zero productivity but four years,” he said. “And under those circumstances, it will not end well for the Republican Party.”
Shea-Porter said she had expected to lose in 2010 after strongly supporting the health-care overhaul, which deeply divided the nation. “But if you don’t come down here to make a difference, then what are you doing here?” she said.
During her two-year absence, Shea-Porter wrote a newspaper column, trained liberal activists and spent time with her mother, who died last year.
“It’s definitely easier the second time around,” she said last week, referring to the task of moving to Washington and setting up shop.
Nolan’s first stint in Congress came during a bygone era when lawmakers worked and raised families in Washington and socialized together regardless of party. Back then, he lived with his young family in Glover Park, but he’s now looking for an apartment about 10 minutes from his Capitol Hill office and reluctantly planning to go home on weekends.
“I don’t apologize for saying we ought to go back to the old days,” Nolan said. During his first year in Congress, he said, the House met for 48 out of 52 weeks, usually from Monday to Friday. This year the House is set to meet for about 32 weeks, usually from Tuesday night through Friday morning.
“Republicans would argue that under the new schedule they’re spending a great deal more time at home with their constituents,” Nolan said. “But at some point you have to govern.”
Amid all the change, Nolan seemed unaccustomed to a political culture that no longer reveres congressmen and frazzled by ethics rules likely to put a crimp in his social schedule.
“We obviously have to have rules and ethics, but I just think that they’ve gotten too far when you literally have to call somebody [on the House ethics committee] to have dinner with a neighbor or go fishing in your neighbor’s boat,” he said. “If anybody does anything for you that’s in excess of $9.99, you’ve got to get an approval.”
While meeting with a reporter at the Capitol Hill Suites hotel housing incoming lawmakers, employees with the House sergeant at arms told Nolan that he had to step outside for his interview because the press is barred from the building.
“I’m tired of getting pushed around by hotel management to do a press conference,” he barked. “I’m not sure why a middle-level government bureaucrat is better at making decisions with regards to the operations of your office than I am.”
But as he walked around the corner from the hotel on a chilly fall day, he grew excited again thinking of what’s to come.
“I’m wonderfully surprised at how energized and positive I feel about all of this and the prospects of success,” he said.
And how will he feel in six months once he’s immersed in the daily grind? “I’m sure I’ll be a little more jaded,” he said. “But right now, I’ve met a lot of the Republicans and they’re thinking the same way as the Democrats. They heard a message back home: Start cooperating.”