Let’s put it this way: About the only face that didn’t materialize on Capitol Hill Tuesday was Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL).
It’s face time on Capitol Hill. A period of new faces and familiar faces. New faces as nearly 80 just-elected House members and 12 new senators-elect descended on the Capitol for freshman orientation. Familiar faces as both the House and Senate met in legislative session for the first time in nearly seven weeks.
New faces, as acting CIA Director Michael Morell hop scotched around the Capitol to brief key lawmakers about the scandal ensnarling former CIA Director David Petraeus. Morell just scored the temporary gig Friday after Petraeus abruptly resigned and now is charged with untangling what in the world happened with Petraeus, Paula Broadwell and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley.
Familiar faces, as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) returned to his Congressional duties and earbud-infused Led Zeppelin tracks a week after President Obama vanquished the Romney-Ryan ticket at the polls.
Familiar faces as former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband Mark Kelly paid a call to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
And familiar faces as even Bono visited the Capitol. In fact, Bono and Morell practically passed each other in the corridor leading to Pelosi’s office suite – Bono departing as Morell arrived, booked back-to-back on the Franklin Covey Day Planner of the California Democrat.
Bono may have been one of the few on Capitol Hill who Morell didn’t brief as the nation’s new top spy sprinted between meetings in the Senate Office Building to huddle with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Morell then crossed back to the Capitol, running a press gauntlet in the Senate subway depot en route to see Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Morell hopped a back elevator from the Capitol Crypt to meet with Reps. Bill Young (R-FL) and Norm Dicks (D-WA) of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
But there was no familiar face in Jesse Jackson Jr. – even as word came that he left the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he underwent treatment for bipolar disorder. Jackson hasn’t voted since June and his constituents overwhelmingly re-elected him. Jackson’s departure from Minnesota fueled speculation the Illinois Democrat was returning to Washington for the House session. But when the bells rang at 6:30 pm Tuesday signaling the first vote series in weeks, Jackson didn’t appear.
And so people will look for the familiar face of Jackson once again Wednesday – or until Jackson ever darkens the doors of the Capitol again.
But it was new faces which ruled the day at the Capitol.
Around 9 am, a steady stream of eager House freshmen began arriving at the Capitol Hill Hotel in the shadow of the Library of Congress. A frigid rain drenched the members-elect as they lugged their luggage up from the Capitol South Metro or piled out of cabs. As they approached the hotel, journalists and aides from the House Administration Committee rifled through booklets stocked with photos of the class. It was a race to match the real, live person with a static, sometimes outdated photo.
“Beatty!” someone would call out or “Collins!” whomever deduced whichever Congressional greenhorn was arriving when they spied Reps.-elect Joyce Beatty (D-OH) or Chris Collins (R-NY).
It was freshman orientation.
“You mean it’s not like high school orientation?” quipped California Democrat Ami Bera. “You sit there, take notes, pay attention.”
Bera finds himself in a unique position. He’s one of a handful of people attending the orientation – who aren’t lawmakers – or aren’t even members-elect. California hasn’t called Bera’s race yet. And it may take a few weeks. But in case Bera is declared the winner, the House Administration Committee, which hosts the orientation, is allowing him to attend all of the sessions if he is in fact declared the winner.
As though those circumstances aren’t awkward enough, the man Bera’s trying to topple is Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), chair of the House Administration Committee.
“It makes it interesting,” said Bera, noting he would see Lungren later in the day. “To his credit, he’s been very cordial and professional.”
After they got situated in their rooms, the newcomers wandered back out onto the street, carrying stuffed binders (not full of women) but briefing materials and dialing through their new Congressionally-issued BlackBerries.
“I’ve got 12 meetings today,” boasted Rep.-elect Robert Pittenger (R-NC).
But Pittenger was already struggling with one meeting.
“But I still need to find my wife. Let me know if you see her,” as he paced up and down C St., SE, trying to locate Suzanne Pittenger.
Many seemed overwhelmed at the tasks ahead of setting up a Congressional office, hiring staff and learning the names of their colleagues.
“We need to make sure we drink in as much as possible,” said Rep.-elect Mark Takano (D-CA).
Reporter Emma Dumain of Roll Call then joked that at first, she thought Takano was going to say “drink as much as possible.”
“No,” said Takano with a laugh. “I have friend who calls me ‘Weak Sauce’ because I can only have two drinks.”
The new House faces attended a reception in Statuary Hall of the Capitol late Tuesday night. Democratic members then got a tour from House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Both Democrats and Republicans were expected to return to the Capitol before 9 Wednesday morning for more meetings.
“My gosh, are we going to sleep?” asked Rep.-elect Kevin Cramer (R-ND).
For a few members of the freshman class, they won’t have time to sleep. They have to get right to work and are the ultimate new faces of Congress. The House swore-in three new members Tuesday because they won special elections last week to fulfill unexpired terms of lawmakers who resigned.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) administered the oath of office to Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and David Curson (D-MI).
Although, if Cramer catches a catnap over the next few weeks, he may miss the abbreviated term of Curson. Curson won a special election to run out the clock on the vacant seat of former Rep. Thad McCotter (R-MI). But Curson didn’t win the seat for the full term that starts next year.
Curson was one of the freshmen whom Nancy Pelosi asked to join her on the dais of the House Radio/TV Gallery for a press conference Tuesday afternoon. The new faces poured into the room, sanding shoulder-to-shoulder. Many had never met before. Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced herself to classmates Steven Horsford (D-NV) and Mark Pocan (D-WI).
“They’re still coming!” beamed Pelosi as freshman Democrats continued to file in. “Since I’ve began speaking, even more members have come in here. Come on in – Kyrsten, Annie. Come on in.”
It’s key for new faces like Reps.-elect Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Ann Kuster (D-NH), to score a shout-out from the Minority Leader. But the ultimate new face recognition went to Rep.-elect Patrick Murphy (D-FL). Pelosi summoned Murphy to the lectern to speak.
“I just defeated somebody you all may know. A guy named (Rep.) Allen West (R-FL). You guys might have heard of him,” said Murphy.
A cheer went up from the Democratic freshmen as they recalled a familiar face in West. West fired off a legendary email to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) last year where he described her as “the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
West is now fighting to continue as a familiar face in Congress, filing a suit to recount early ballots in St. Lucie County. West shook off Murphy’s remarks and Pelosi’s special invitation to his rival.
“I don’t care about that,” said West. “I guess I am a little bit more mature than some of the antics that some people like to play.”
The ultimate question over a familiar face or a new face on Capitol Hill could come Wednesday morning. Pelosi meets with the House Democratic Caucus to reveal her future plans. Speculation dominated the Capitol Tuesday as to whether Pelosi would stick around or perhaps hand over the reins to her longtime rival, Steny Hoyer. Or, would Pelosi initiate a process which helps facilitate a new Democratic leader that leapfrogs Hoyer altogether. Political handicappers have weighed the odds for Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) or Wasserman Schultz.
Pelosi fueled a unique brand of political tea leaf reading as reporters studied her body language on the floor for any hint as to what she might do. Pelosi only added to the suspense when she scheduled a 10 am press conference with female lawmakers. Some interpreted that as a way for Pelosi to head for the exits as she salutes the burgeoning female makeup of the House. The California Democrat only bolstered more conjecture when she announced she would plant a tree on the Capitol grounds Wednesday to honor the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA).
“I have absolutely no idea. I don’t know,” said Clyburn about Pelosi’s future as he left the Capitol late Tuesday. “All I know is that she hasn’t told me.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said if nothing else, Pelosi certainly knew how to bolster attendance at the 9 am House Democratic Caucus.
“I’m impressed with how close to the vest she’s kept it,” said Connolly.
Hoyer took the diplomatic route as to whether he thought Pelosi should remain at the helm of the House Democrats.
“If she wants to stay on, yes,” said Hoyer.
For Hoyer, Pelosi is an all too familiar face. She topped him in a leadership contest more than a decade ago. Pelosi ran the late-Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) against Hoyer for Majority Leader when Democrats seized control of the House in 2006. Pelosi and Hoyer are familiar faces, dating back to when they toiled alongside one another in the office of the late-Sen. Daniel Brewster (D-MD) in the 1960s.
Either way, Democrats either get a familiar face or a new face as their leader.
It’s all a part of face time on Capitol Hill.