House Freshman Orientation

More than 90 freshmen House members descend on Washington Sunday for freshmen orientation.

It’s kind of like move-in day at college. Minus the plastic milk crates swiped from the local dairy. And meeting the weird roommate they paired you with who never removes his earbuds.

Welcome to Congress, freshmen. You’re on your own now. Hope mom and dad left you some beer money.

For the next six days, the House Administration Committee conducts New Member Orientation. It’s where the new lawmakers learn how to be lawmakers. They’ll get schooling in parliamentary procedure, hear about setting up their Congressional offices, receive briefings on security and learn about House ethics.

Plus, there are requisite mixers with fellow freshmen and, depending on your party, dinners with top leaders like presumptive House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), incoming-Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and soon-to-be Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

It all starts Sunday morning as the freshmen filter into the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel for formal orientation meetings. They’ll get checked into their rooms, receive briefing papers and get their Congressional BlackBerry. Soon after that comes their Congressional ID pin and electronic voting card.

But in many respects for the freshmen, this is a lot like moving away to college and trying to fit in. Everyone’s getting to know one another. They’re trying to figure out who’s cool and who they want to hang around with. Choosing committee assignments is kind of like selecting a major. Do you want be an expert on the vagaries of farm subsidies and serve on the Agriculture Committee? Or would your hot-shot Ivy League law degree help out on the Judiciary Committee?

Who are the tough professors to avoid?

They’re lucky Professor Rahm Emanuel doesn’t teach here any more.

And wait until you see your class schedule. 8 am classes? Try 8 am breakfast fundraisers at Bistro Bis. And then 7:30 pm fundraisers at Tortilla Coast. Remember, you’re up for re-election in less than two years. Be prepared for some long days.

And then there’s the Congressional equivalent of Greek rush.

Only it works a little different with this particular GOP class. The freshmen don’t vie for bids. Instead, outside groups jockey to bring lawmakers into their fold.

In fact, it’s nearly a competition for the heart and soul of the incoming freshmen class.

For starters, a handful of freshmen are organizing a reception and discussion in conjunction with the Claremont Institute at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill, commonly known as the Capitol Hill Club. The club is steps from the Cannon House Office Building and is frequented by Republican lawmakers and staff. Many take meals there or go there to relax over a drink after a long day of votes, hearings and meetings.

Fox has obtained a memo advertising the event to freshmen. The organizers say they “strongly encourage (freshmen) to attend this important meeting” and argue that it is “important for this historic class of new members to get to know each other and to discuss how we can work together as a group in general.”

Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett will moderate a conversation there.

But not so fast.

Fox has obtained another memo, penned by the Tea Party Patriots. That group is scheduling another event around the same time and is imploring freshmen to attend their function instead.

“Don’t let them Steal OUR new Members of Congress” trumpets the memo.

It goes on to say that “DC insiders, the (Republican National Committee) and lobbyists are already trying to push the Tea Party aside and co-opt the incoming Congressmen.”

The Tea Party Patriots say they offered to merge the events. But claim the Claremont Institute was having none of it.

“Do you want the first event your incoming Freshman Congressman (attends) to be an event hosted by Local Coordinators of Tea Party Patriots and the Senators who are willing to support them in their drive to restore the U.S. Constitution? Or would you rather attend an indoctrination organized by DC insiders and lobbyists, members of The Ruling Class?” reads the memo. “They need to know what you, their constituents, think about their choice and how you’ll react if they choose to ignore the grassroots and immediately get in bed with DC lobbyists and RNC insiders.”

Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots says that if GOP freshmen members attend the event at the Capitol Hill Club over theirs, it will be “an early signal of how they’re going to be once they get into office.”

Martin believes that at least 40 members of the incoming freshmen class will come to the Tea Party forum. But the event is at undisclosed location that Martin wouldn’t reveal.

No word if former Vice President Dick Cheney will attend.

And so much for grousing about openness and transparency. Remember all of the talk during the health care debate about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) writing the bill behind closed doors?

FOX has also learned that retiring-Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Sens. Jim DeMint (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) will participate at an event in conjunction with the Constitutional Congress at the Ronald Reagan Building. Some freshmen are expected to attend that event, too.

There will be some anomalies among the incoming freshman. Not all who attend the formal, House Administration Committee orientation at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel are guaranteed they’ll actually be seated in Congress.

There are a number of unconceded races all over the country. For instance, the contest  between Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY) and challenger Ann Marie Buerkle (R) isn’t final yet. Or between Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL) and Joe Walsh (R). So consider Buerkle and Walsh to be “red shirt” freshman. They’ll go through the orientation. With the caveat that they might not be eligible to “play” this year. At least until their respective races are called.

While most freshmen will be dog-paddling just to stay above water the next few days, some coming to the orientation are a little more equal than their classmates.

The new group features a gang of five which returns to the Capitol Hill campus for graduate studies. These are former lawmakers who lost and rallied to retake their seats this year. The list includes former-Reps. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Charlie Bass (R-NH) and Tim Walberg (R-MI). Chabot served 14 years in Congress before losing to Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) two years ago. Fitzpatrick and Walberg both served one term before winning re-election.

And then there two “true” freshmen who get a leg up on the rest of the newcomers.

New York’s 29th Congressional district has lacked House representation since former-Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) resigned in March amid allegations that he sexually harassed male aides. Indiana’s 3rd Congressional district has been vacant since May when former-Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) resigned after admitting to an affair with a Congressional aide.

So, to get those districts representation as soon as possible, the House will swear-in Reps.-elect Tom Reed (R-NY) and Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) this week, nearly two months before the rest of the class. Not only will Reed and Stutzman have seniority over their colleagues, but they’ll even be allowed to vote on the House floor during the lame duck sessions.

The week culminates for the freshmen on Friday with a Capitol Hill tradition: the freshman office lottery.

And it’s just that: the freshmen all draw lots to see who gets to choose first in selecting a Congressional pad.

The office lottery kind of works like the NFL draft. Which means that former Houston Oilers’ fourth-round pick and Rep.-elect Jon Runyan (R-NJ) should have an advantage.

Once a freshman’s number is called, they’re on the clock, just like in the NFL. They have 15 minutes to make their decision on which office they want. Lawmakers-elect who have done their homework often “scout” the best offices ahead of time. They know the square footage of offices and also know how close they are to the elevator or parking garage. It all depends on what a member wants in an office. Do they need a tight end or a linebacker? A quarterback or a tackle?

But freshmen don’t get the best office on Capitol Hill. The most-elite suites come with seniority. Some feature spectacular views of the Capitol dome.

Many freshmen will find themselves toiling on the upper floors of the Longworth and Cannon House Office Buildings. Expect lots to wind up on the fifth floor of Cannon, the Congressional equivalent of Siberia. The offices there are bifurcated, with some staff and lowly interns working across the hall from the main office in what are called “the cages.” These are steel cages that are locked at night to order to store office supplies.

And not all of the elevators in Cannon go to the fifth floor. Which some Congressional aides joke is only appropriate, considering some of the lawmakers whose offices are located up there.

So the freshman arrive, anxious to change Washington. This year’s GOP freshmen class is better positioned than most to influence the debate and evoke change.

But Congress usually doesn’t respond well to that. That’s because it’s populated with upper-classmen.

Expect some freshmen hazing.