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US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is a seasoned veteran when it comes to dealing with the Washington DC press corps. But newly-elected members of California's Congressional delegation are learning how best to handle Capitol Hill reporters.
California’s Congressional freshmen are quickly learning the ropes at the Capitol. The new kids are treading softly with one DC beast: the press corps.
Republican Congressman-elect Doug LaMalfa of Redding says he’s already heard the stories about reporters on Capitol Hill. He hears they "follow you around and play 'gotcha' with their little cameras and taking something that you’re doing and spinning that out of perspective."
Newly-elected LA Democrat Tony Cardenas saw the DC press corps in action the day House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi introduced the new freshmen. When Pelosi opened up the press conference to reporters for questions, "all they wanted to ask it seemed was about General Petraeus and that issue." Cardenas says he thought reporters would ask about "what’s next for the country, the economy, policy etc." The fact that they didn't, he says "honestly, was a bit disappointing."
LaMalfa and Cardenas are state legislature veterans who've dealt with the press corps in Sacramento. Cardenas has also fenced with reporters who covered him at L.A. City Hall. Their one saving grace: the DC press corps largely ignores freshmen after they’re sworn in … unless they do something stupid.
It’s freshman orientation time, Capitol Hill style. Newly-elected members of Congress spent last week in Washington, where there was a lot to learn and not much time to learn it.
It was a busy week for the new House members from California.
Republican Doug LaMalfa from Redding said going to the House floor was "pretty cool." Ventura Democrat Julia Brownley said there were a lot of meetings in a lot of different locations, which resulted in sore feet, "But it's all been great and very exciting."
L.A. Democrat Tony Cardenas said they received ethics training early in the week, but he had more questions after the session than he did before he walked in the door.
Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had his priorities in order: he found out where he could get his dry cleaning done in the Longworth House Office Building for about a fourth of the price they charge at the hotel where the newbies were put up.
David Valadao, a Republican representing Hanford in the Central Valley, said the hardest part has been remembering names and faces. He noted when he was a lawmaker in Sacramento, it was easier: just 80 members. And as the minority party, his Republican caucus "just had 27 at the time."
California is sending a bumper crop of 14 freshmen to Capitol Hill. They were feted at a dinner in the grand Statuary Hall of the Capitol by Speaker John Boehner, had their I.D. pictures taken, and staked out their preference for committees.
Cardenas wants Energy and Commerce, since he's an engineer. Takano, a teacher, is leaning toward Education and the Workforce. LaMalfa pointed out that he's a farmer in his "real life," so the Agriculture Committee would be "a natural." But LaMalfa said he already knows this much: "Freshmen don't walk in here and start dictating where they go."
Nevertheless, Democrats Alan Lowenthal from Long Beach and Jared Huffman from Humboldt are both requesting Transportation and Infrastructure. Their party is the minority in the House, which means fewer seats on plum committees like those they're seeking.
But Cardenas isn’t discouraged: "The way it works around here, they say if you don’t get what you ask for, and they give you a different committee, apparently you still get to reserve a right to be on it when a slot opens up in the future."
Brownley also wants one of those rare Transportation seats. She spent an afternoon making her case to the top Democrat on that committee, Nick Rahall of West Virginia.
It’s not just the protocol new freshmen have to learn. There’s also the physical lay of the land. Just ask Valadao and Sacramento Democrat Dr. Ami Bera. Valadao said he got "a little disoriented" in the Capitol. Bera said it's a "maze" of a building and compared it to a hospital.
Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino also got a little confused when she stepped into a bathroom: "I walked in and [thought], Why are there urinals here?" She double-checked the door, saw the men's room sign and walked right back out.
But these 14 new members have worries off the Hill as well. Their top concern is housing, whether they'll need a roommate, or a car. Dr. Raul Ruiz of the Coachella Valley said he's thinking about the East Coast winter weather, which he experienced during his college days at Harvard: "I’m starting to think of which clothing that I have that are remnants from my time in Boston that will keep me warm here in D.C."
Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, broached another matter that crosses party lines: "One of the longer commutes in Congress." Peters wondered how he'll make a bi-coastal lifestyle work. LaMalfa said the challenge is whether to "move your family back to this place and then just go home for district business and then try to get back and be here? Or is there enough days that they’re home, you should just stay here and hustle back and forth on the weekends?"
The freshmen will have time to think about logistics while they’re home for Thanksgiving. They’ll be back at work at their temporary cubicles in the basement of the Rayburn Building at the end of the month, picking lottery numbers for office space and learning more about the way things work in D.C.