For GOP freshmen, congressional swearing-in is 'game day'

The new Congress opens its first session, and representatives elect John Boehner as House speaker.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 10:15 PM

For some Republican House freshmen, Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony was an odd moment. After winning their races by calling Washington a cesspool, they brought spouses, children, aunts and uncles to watch them officially dive in.

"It feels awkward," said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who used a shovel as his campaign logo because, he said, Washington had surrounded the common man with a "pile of crap." Instead of a grand swearing-in, he said, "we should have a barbecue, and we should be serving people."

Freshman Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) said he was feeling the weight of the serious problems Republicans had pledged to tackle. During the campaign, he said, GOP candidates were like dogs chasing a bus. "We caught the bus," he said.

For the 82 new GOP lawmakers, outsiders-turned-insiders, a difficult balancing act began Wednesday. They railed against Washington, but now they are Washington. Yet although they despise much about the place, some said that the excitement of their first day - surrounded by marble columns, police escorts and families dressed in Sunday best - was undeniable.

"I didn't sleep last night," Gosar said. "I woke up at 1, 2, 3."

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) had buffed his own shoes to a high shine. "There's a lot of things that are broken" in Congress, he said. "But overall, it's a wonderful institution. It has tremendous history."

"It's game day," he said. "I'm tired of sitting on the sidelines."

The freshmen are still new enough not to know Hill lingo - the cloakroom, a party command center off the House floor, became "the cloak." Statuary Hall, the grand chamber full of sculptures of prominent Americans, was "Statutory Hall."

Gosar said that one of the hardest things about becoming a congressman was remembering not to call other lawmakers "congressman." He said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) told him, "It's Mike now."

But on Wednesday, the freshmen were the stars.

Their days began with receptions in their offices, as family members and supporters filed in to shake hands and take smartphone pictures of the plaques with the new legislators' names.

At 11:45 a.m., with crowds milling in their offices, the new members heard the first buzz of an alarm calling them to the House chamber. They walked down, trailed by entourages of children and relatives, making that first historic walk to the Capitol.

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