The sedan with Ohio tags sported two "Bill Johnson for Congress" stickers pasted to the rear window. It motored into the drive of the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington at precisely 8:45 am Sunday.
"We didn't expect to be the first," said Rep.-elect Bill Johnson (R-OH), a 25-year-old Air Force veteran who defeated Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-OH) on November 2nd. "But I'm never late."
And thus began the orientation sessions for nearly 100 House freshmen elected two weeks ago. The House won't swear-in most of these members until January 5. But the work of learning how to be a lawmaker starts now with an intense week of forums, discussions, dinners and symposia.
"I haven't been a freshman in a very long time," Johnson said, after loading a half dozen pieces of luggage onto a cart to be bussed upstairs to his room.
As we chatted outside the hotel in the crisp, fall air, I reminded Johnson that there's a form of Congressional "hazing" that takes place on Capitol Hill. Senior lawmakers gently remind freshmen that they're, well, freshmen.
"I don't know about the hazing part," Johnson replied. "If they have us scraping cheese balls off the ceiling or something like that, I don't know what we'll do."
It's doubtful anyone will task the freshman class of 2010 with any cheese ball scraping stunts. But in the minds of the freshmen, there's a lot to clean up around Capitol Hill. On the ceilings and otherwise. The freshmen Republicans want to curb spending, trim the deficit and repeal the health care law. They believe they're on a mission. And there's concern that the electorate may have set the bar too high for this freshman class.
"You don't turn around the Titanic in a swimming pool," Johnson said. "They sent us here expecting us to do things differently. We are going to do things differently. But there are no easy fixes."
And then the onslaught began. Freshman after freshman began piling out of vans and taxis and pouring into the hotel to get checked in, receive their initial briefing papers and a Congressional BlackBerry.
But the lawmakers-in-waiting weren't the only ones with an agenda Sunday morning.
A few enterprising twenty-somethings donned suits with smart ties and roamed the hotel lobby, handing out resumes to the new members. It was a crafty maneuver to score some face time with the members-elect and a chance to possibly land a coveted job in a Congressional office.
Meantime, aides from the House Administration Committee, which runs the orientation, had papers for the freshmen, too. They handed the representatives-elect thick binders stocked with schedules and guidance. All important info on how to become a U.S. Representative.
"We're basically getting indoctrinated," Bill Johnson said of the orientation process.
"Indoctrinated" was probably not the best word to use around the Tea Party Patriots (TPP) on Sunday.
The group excoriated the newcomers for attending a meet-and-greet at the Capitol Hill Club organized by a handful of freshmen and the Claremont Institute instead of their own event at the Ronald Reagan Building downtown. And that was to say nothing of a third forum, also at the Reagan Building, conducted by the Constitutional Congress. The Constitutional Congress brought over retiring Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) to chat with the freshmen about their legislative priorities. DeMint challenged the newbies not to just be "rhetorical gadflies" but to work on "real legislation."
A wise Congressman told me years ago that they don't do a lot in Congress. But when they do it, they do it all at once. Which was exactly what unfolded Sunday afternoon when all three events spilled into one another, to say nothing of the formal orientation session running all day at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel.
In a memo distributed to its members, the TPP took exception to the freshmen ducking their conclave.
"Don't Let them Steal OUR New Members of Congress," thundered a TPP memo obtained by FOX. "They are apparently trying to make sure that instead of sitting with grassroots tea party leaders from around the country, the lobbyists and consultants can sink their claws into the freshmen and begin to ‘teach them' the ways of DC."
Then the TPP published on the internet the personal cell phone numbers and email addresses of every freshman Republican member. TPP backers then melted the BlackBerries of the freshman GOPers with waves of voice messages and emails.
After all, the heart and soul of the freshman class was at stake.
Rep.-elect Bill Flores (R-TX) decried this effort in an email to his fellow GOP classmates.
"The TPP's tactics were inappropriate," wrote Flores in a message obtained by FOX. "The posting of our private cell phone numbers & email addresses along with the trashing of the Claremont Foundation's reputation were not professional actions and they were disruptive to our individual efforts to have effective transitions into our elected offices."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who helped arrange the Capitol Hill Club event, called the "tactics" of the TPP "disappointing." He was particularly upset at the leaking of cell phone numbers and email addresses and noted that his voicemail was now full.
"I may have to change my number and email address now," Kinzinger said.
Others like Rep.-elect Kristi Noem (R-SD) were diplomatic about the dustup. She said her priority was to "meet as many people as possible" during orientation week.
Noem then executed a Congressional "hat trick" by swinging by all three events.
And then there are those who avoided all three.
Rep.-elect Tim Walberg (R-MI) is one of a handful of repeat lawmakers. He served one term in Congress until Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI) unseated him two years ago. Walberg returned the favor a few weeks ago.
"I'm not attending any of them," Walberg said at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. "I have a number of things to do. Interview staff and people."
Walberg joins Reps.-elect Steve Chabot (R-OH), Steve Pearce (R-OH), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Charlie Bass (R-NH) as encore Congressmen. All either lost previously or sought a different office before winning re-election to the House.
All will have Congressional seniority on the rest of the freshman class.
And there are two more freshman who are a little more equal than the rest. At least for six weeks or so.
Reps.-elect Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) and Tom Reed (R-NY) will be representatives-elect for only another day. The House is due to swear them in Tuesday ahead of their colleagues because their Congressional seats have been vacant for much of the year. Stutzman will fulfill the uncompleted term of former Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). Souder resigned in disgrace in May after admitting he had an affair with an aide. Reed finishes the term of former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY). The New York Democrat quit amid allegations that he sexually harassed male aides.
That means both Stutzman and Reed can vote during the lame duck session. And they even get to move into the actual Congressional offices held by Souder and Massa.
Stutzman says Souder's misdeeds created a "lack of mistrust" about Congress in his northern Indiana district.
"How could it happen to our Congressman?" Stutzman said. "There is very little trust right now across the country with Washington."
If Stutzman and Reed are ahead of most of their fellow freshmen, then Texas Republican Blake Farenthold is a little behind.
The House won't swear-in Farenthold Tuesday. In fact, he might not even get sworn-in come January. It may not even be fair to call him a representative-elect. Yet.
Twenty-eight-year veteran Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) hasn't yet conceded to Farenthold. And Farenthold now holds a narrow, 797 vote margin over Ortiz. But Farenthold says election officials just unearthed a few more ballot boxes.
"I get nervous every time my phone vibrates," Farenthold said.
Farenthold is one of eight members who are a part of the CFDIWTRHNYBD. Or, as the House Administration Committee put it, "Candidates from Districts In Which the Results Have Not Yet Been Determined."
"They ought to call us the contested race caucus," Farenthold joked. "I think we need to at least get together and have a cup of coffee and commiserate."
The House Administration Committee always allows candidates from "undecided races" to come to Washington for their orientation. But you never know. Being in the orientation doesn't guarantee success the board of elections.
However, there is one bright spot for those who finally emerge victorious in drawn-out races: choice office space.
In 2006, Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) secured a rare office in the sought-after Rayburn House Office Building after finally defeating former-Rep. JD Hayworth (R-AZ). Hayworth didn't concede until December, long after the other freshmen snapped up all the available offices. So Hayworth's was the only office left. And Mitchell snared some cool Congressional digs.
With his seniority, Ortiz occupies an office suite on the first floor of Rayburn. And Farenthold says if the race gets drawn-out long enough, he could wind up in Ortiz's. Farenthold calls that the "one up side."
Of course, Farenthold might not get any office at all. Because there's a chance he might not become a Member of Congress.
And that proved to be the biggest challenge on Sunday: figuring out who was going to be a Member of Congress and who is not.
Back at L'Enfant Plaza, journalists waltzed up to hotel staff, introduced themselves and asked what district they would be representing.
Congressional aides welcomed journalists to the hotel and directed them to a desk to pick up their room keys.
With such a gigantic class, it's hard to keep everyone straight. Which is why the House Administration panel distributed copies of the New Member Pictorial Directory. Just a few years ago, this was known in Congressional parlance as the "facebook."
In other words, the House Administration Committee has a lot in common with the Winklevoss twins from "The Social Network."
But with close to 100 freshmen members, the New Member Pictorial Directory is basically the bible. And when a new "Congressional-looking" face walked in the door, everyone rifled through their copy to match the person with a picture in the booklet.
At one point, a particular Republican freshman approached me and inquired if the African American man surrounded by several journalists was Rep.-elect Tim Scott (R-SC). Scott is one of two black members of the GOP freshman class. The House Republican Conference hasn't had an African American member since 2003.
"I'd really like to meet Scott," the Republican said.
I told him the interview subject in question was not Tim Scott, but Rep.-elect Cedric Richmond (D-LA), an African American freshman from New Orleans.
"Oh," said the Republican.
Who then walked away.
Without introducing himself to Richmond.