Senate Freshmen Get Orientation

How to get along, get around and stay out of trouble were among the themes Tuesday as the Senate's 10 newest members began a two-day orientation session.

The program for the eight Republican and two Democratic senators-elect also included a quick lesson on the seniority system that will put them on the bottom of the list for everything from office space to committee assignments.

"I'm certainly thrilled to be here," said an undeterred Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who defeated former vice president Walter Mondale to win the seat held by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. "I'd rather be a freshman here than not be a freshman."

For most, the transition to life as a senator will not be that dramatic: only two — Coleman and John Cornyn, R-Texas — are true Washington newcomers.

Of the others, four come from the House of Representatives — Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Jim Talent, R-Mo., John Sununu, R-N.H., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Mark Pryor, D-Ark., is the son of former Sen. David Pryor and spent part of his childhood in Washington, while Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., is the wife of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and served in two cabinets, as secretary of transportation and labor.

Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was secretary of education under the first President Bush, and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., was a senator from 1983-2001, pressed out of retirement after Sen. Bob Torricelli dropped out of his re-election race.

"It's sort of like going from the Navy to the Air Force," said Graham, who is taking over the seat that Strom Thurmond, retiring as he approaches his 100th birthday, held for 48 years. "They have similar missions but totally different languages."

It will "take awhile to understand the nuances," Graham said, adding that he had "been here once before in different circumstances," as a House manager of Senate impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.

Cornyn, who was sworn in Monday to replace retired Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said he was trying to "meet everybody who makes this place run." In focusing on the election campaign, he said, "You don't really think about the significance of the fact that `Now I'm a U.S. senator,' and all the responsibility that goes with that."

Cornyn said that with his background as a judge and Texas attorney general, he hoped to win a seat on the Judiciary Committee, but "being one of the new guys, we don't know what's available."

The Senate freshmen, like their House counterparts who underwent orientation last month, were to be briefed on how to set up an office, hire staff, comply with ethics rules and balance the demands of work and family.

They were greeted by Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who will return to the position of Majority Leader when the 108th Congress convenes next month, and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who lost that job when Republicans regained the majority in the midterm elections.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who has spent 44 of his 85 years in the Senate and is its foremost expert on the history and protocol of the body, is to lecture on Senate traditions.

They also were being briefed on personal security, dealing with classified information and Senate plans for continuing operations in the event of a terror attack or other emergency.

The freshmen class will get at least one other new member when Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, who left the Senate to successfully run for governor, appoints a successor in the next few days. Louisiana Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell could become the 12th freshman if she should win a close runoff election Saturday against incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu.

Bob Dole joined seven senatorial wives in a separate briefing for freshman spouses. "Mrs. Lott gave us hints on how to get around," said Dole, who spent 28 years in the Senate before stepping down to run for president against Clinton in 1996.

Dole said he was impressed by the spouses' gallery overlooking the Senate chamber. "I could open a lobbying office up there."