New members of Congress arrive in Washington to be schooled in its ways
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
This week, Morgan Griffith finally went to Congress.
On the way, he went to Wendy's.
Griffith, a newly elected Republican representative from Virginia, hit the drive-through for lunch at the end of a long drive from Salem, Va., on Sunday. He rolled into the official hotel for Congressional freshmen with a to-go cup of iced tea, three kids and a luggage cart stuffed with wrinkled dress shirts, plastic bags from Nordstrom Rack and kids' backpacks.
"What does Daddy do?" Griffith's wife, Hilary, asked son Starke, 3, while they waited for Morgan Griffith to be checked in.
"Vote!" Starke said.
As if it were that simple. Instead, the roughly 100 members of a closely watched class of first-year legislators arrived to find a complicated set of assignments -- ones for which the official congressional orientation would be of little help.
They are supposed to learn Washington's rules but not give in to its customs. And they are somehow supposed to fight the capital's entrenched interests -- at a time when those interests are already fighting over them.
Maybe that was the reason that the giddy, getting-to-know-you phase of this week's freshman orientation seemed to last less than 24 hours.
"There's going to be a lot more eyes on you," said Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), a businessman who ousted a Democratic incumbent with tea party backing. He said the Republican class of 1994 had it easy: Now, his every move can be tracked with Twitter, Facebook and other Internet tools. "This freshman class, unlike every other, will be under the microscope, you know. Criticized."
The freshmen were welcomed to Washington in one of Washington's least welcoming places: empty, lifeless L'Enfant Plaza -- which, on a Sunday afternoon, is a little slice of Pyongyang. They rolled in with their suitcases and headed for a room off the lobby of the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. "New Member Orientation," the sign said.
Some freshmen arrived wearing totems of their winning campaigns, like college students still sporting high school letter jackets.
Rep.-elect Allen West (R-Fla.), a retired Army lieutenant colonel, wore parachutist insignia on his lapel. Rep.-elect Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) wore one of her fabulous hats: a black cowboy hat covered in sequins (she tried to wear another large hat in her official Congressional ID photo, but Capitol officials wouldn't allow it).