WASHINGTON (AP) — Don't hire someone you can't fire, like the son of a campaign donor or the child of the mayor. No matter what you may have said during the campaign about changing Congress, hire enough Hill veterans to make the office run smoothly. And make sure the person answering the phone sounds like folks from back home.
That's only some of the advice headed for the historic class of House freshmen of both major political parties streaming into Washington this week for orientation on the nuts and bolts underpinning a job like none other.
Under tight security, new members and their staffs pulled up in front of a hotel about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the Capitol on Tuesday. A bank of cameras and a table marked "luggage drop-off" awaited their arrivals in the morning chill.
"I'm just trying to figure out what's going on," said Rep.-elect Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., a former member of the state legislature. "I figure that we're the small fish in a very big pond right now."
They are a younger generation of lawmakers — including a record number of women — arriving flush with victory and optimism. The Democrats are ready to take on President Donald Trump in the biggest and most diverse class of new lawmakers since Watergate.
"I hope that we are ushering in a new era," one of the class stars, Massachusetts Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, said Monday.
Perhaps the most famous member of the freshman class, Democratic Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, jumped into the fray on Tuesday, joining about 200 climate-change activists as they staged a protest at the office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Ocasio-Cortez, 29, who is set to become the youngest member of Congress in January, addressed the group briefly before arrests were made. Pelosi said in a statement that she welcomes the activists. She has pledged to reinstate a special committee on climate change after Democrats take control of the House.
Among the new Democrats, there's an uncomfortable vote looming on whether Pelosi, former speaker of the House, should lead them. Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., on Monday became the latest House Democrat newcomer to say she won't vote for Pelosi because she wants "new leadership." Pelosi has said she expects to become speaker again.
Pressley and several of her classmates made their Washington debut on Monday in a packed news conference whose setting suggested as much about the new majority's intentions as the agenda they described. Gathered in the atrium of the AFL-CIO down the street from the White House, they appeared as the newest members of the ascendant House Progressive Caucus, dedicated to universal health care and new climate policy. The incoming majority, including a gain of at least 32 seats, will be fighting a Republican-led Senate and a president with a history of tweeting trouble for people who displease him.
And the newly elected Republicans are on the same side as Trump, at least in theory.
But for both parties of newcomers, those big questions are for later. The first votes on Pelosi, for example, won't unfold until after Thanksgiving. And the new Congress, the 116th session, doesn't convene until Jan. 3.
Now, for many newcomers, it's a scramble to stand up offices in the warren of Capitol Hill and back home in House districts that each represent more than 700,000 people. Every office has a budget. And every freshman who doesn't already have a home in pricey Washington will have to figure out how to rent an apartment, or maybe just keep a rollaway bed in the office, on a $174,000 salary.
"We focus on getting them to appreciate that there are certain activities that they have to do in the next 90 days," said Bradford Fitch, president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Congressional Management Foundation, which is among those briefing new members.
The new crop of lawmakers includes a lot of firsts.
For the first time, two Native American women are headed to the House, in addition to two Muslim congresswomen-elect. Massachusetts and Connecticut also will send black women to Congress as firsts for their states.
But not every freshman is new to Washington.
Rep.-elect Donna Shalala of Florida was health and human services secretary to President Bill Clinton. Former NFL linebacker Colin Allred of Texas is a civil rights lawyer who worked in President Barack Obama's housing department. Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat, is an Obama administration alumnus who served as a civilian adviser in Iraq.
Whatever their background, every newly elected member is heading for a job as one of 435 colleagues in Washington juggling what can sometimes be a seven-day-a-week job of votes, constituent requests and committee meetings. All the while, those who intend to return are already thinking about — and soon will be fundraising for — their 2020 re-election campaigns.
But first things first, Fitch said. At the progressive caucus briefing for new members on Monday, he handed out a 300-page book, "Setting Course: A Congressional Management Guide," updated for the incoming Congress. It sets out everything from hiring a core staff in November and December to the culture of Congress.
Chapter One talks about Dos and Don'ts of these first days. Do learn to delegate, for example. Don't "skip the House/Senate orientations and party organizational activities."
And don't "try to do everything."
During this period, "they don't have to come up with a solution to the Middle East crisis," Fitch said.
Meet the House Democrats who will be running the show
NITA LOWEY - Appropriations Committee
Lowey, 81, would be the first woman to oversee the committee that determines where the federal government spends its money. The New York Democrat, who represents the lower Hudson Valley, said the committee will seek to increase funding for infrastructure and for safety-net programs such as Head Start and Pell grants. The committee will also work to increase budget caps so lawmakers can avoid steep cuts to defense and nondefense programs.
The committee can also conduct oversight of any Trump administration action that involves government funding, such as how much Cabinet members are spending on travel or how much it is costing the Pentagon to send troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
ADAM SCHIFF - Intelligence Committee
Schiff, 58, represents parts of Los Angeles, including Hollywood and Burbank. As the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, he has been one of Trump's favorite foils in Congress. Schiff has repeatedly criticized the House's Russia investigation, which his GOP colleagues conducted, saying it was inadequate.
Now Schiff will get his chance to conduct his own targeted investigation into Trump's 2016 campaign and its ties to Russia. He has said that he wants to look at whether Russians used laundered money for transactions with the Trump Organization. He also wants more information about communications the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had with his father and others about a June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer.
ELIJAH CUMMINGS - Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Cummings, 67, will likely head the committee that could make life the toughest for the Trump White House because of its broad investigative powers.
Cummings would likely seek Trump's business tax returns and other company-related financial records. He said he will work to make the president accountable, but will also challenge Republicans to uphold their oversight responsibilities, saying, "I think we as a body can do better."
The Maryland Democrat, who represents parts of Baltimore city and most of Howard County, has said he would also like the committee to examine prescription drug prices and whether some states have engaged in voter suppression.
"We cannot have a country where it becomes normal to do everything in Trump's power to stop people from voting," Cummings said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
He would also seek to bring Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross before the committee to testify about the decision to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census.
JERROLD NADLER - Judiciary Committee
Nadler, 71, has been in Congress since 1992 and has served on the Judiciary Committee for much of that time. He represents a large swath of Trump's hometown of New York.
He is expected to make one of his first priorities as chairman protecting special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and requesting that Mueller's materials are preserved in case he is fired. Nadler said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that Matthew Whitaker, whom Trump named acting attorney general last week, "should recuse himself" from Mueller probe because he "expressed total hostilities to the investigation" and "if necessary" the Judiciary Committee will "subpoena" him to appear before the committee
The Judiciary panel would also oversee impeachment proceedings, if Democrats decided to move in that direction. But Nadler has expressed caution about the idea, saying there would have to be "overwhelming evidence" from Mueller and some bipartisan support.
The panel is also expected to look into family separation at the border and the Trump administration's management of the Affordable Care Act.
MAXINE WATERS - Financial Services Committee
Waters, 80, is expected to chair a committee with oversight of banks, insurers and investment firms. She has opposed Republican-led efforts to roll back the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and is promising colleagues that she will prioritize protecting consumers from abusive financial practices. The California lawmaker, whose district centers on south Los Angeles County, can also conduct aggressive oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and steps it has taken to reduce enforcement actions against student lenders, pay-day lenders and others.
The president railed against Waters on the campaign trail this year, frequently mentioning her during his rallies. Waters accuses Republicans of serving as Trump's "accomplices."
COLLIN PETERSON - Agriculture Committee
Peterson, 74, is a moderate from a heavily rural congressional district in western Minnesota. He is a strong critic of Trump's trade policies and could use his platform to highlight how farmers have been harmed by retaliatory tariffs from China and other nations. His top priority now is to get a farm bill passed, if not in the current Congress, then in the next one. Peterson will also have the committee take a close look at the reorganization underway at the Agriculture Department, including the push to move its top independent research office out of Washington.
JOHN YARMUTH - Budget Committee
Yarmuth, 71, is serving his sixth term from Kentucky, where he represents much of the Louisville area. He'll put together a budget blueprint that includes Democratic lawmakers' top priorities. He also has said he will hold hearings on a single-payer health plan modeled on the Democratic push to create "Medicare-for-All."
ELIOT ENGEL - Foreign Affairs Committee
Engel, 71, who represents parts of the Bronx and New York City's northern suburbs, has been a consistent critic of the president's foreign policy. He has told colleagues that one of his top priorities will be to investigate where the Trump administration's foreign-policy actions are intertwined with the president's business interests. Protecting the State Department is also a priority for him, including looking into whether career officials have been "purged" because they were deemed insufficiently loyal to the president.
RICHARD NEAL - Ways and Means Committee
Neal, 69, who represents western and parts of central Massachusetts, is expected to lead the committee that has oversight of tax and trade issues. He is promising hearings on the $1.5 trillion tax cut Republicans pushed through last year and has said he would consider a middle-income tax cut, but only if rates for the top income earners go up to help pay for it.
The committee has jurisdiction over trade, and Neal said he expects Trump's trade deal with Mexico and Canada to come before his committee soon. The panel is also expected to seek Trump's tax returns from the IRS, likely triggering a court fight.
BOBBY SCOTT - Education and the Workforce Committee
Scott, 71, is poised to lead the Democratic oversight of changes that Secretary Betsy DeVos has enacted at the Education Department. The Virginia Democrat, who represents parts of the Tidewater area, has told colleagues that he would continue work to free students from the burden of crippling debt, ensure workers have a safe job environment and conduct rigorous oversight to the administration's "deregulatory agenda."
FRANK PALLONE - Energy and Commerce Committee
Pallone, 67, hails from north-central New Jersey and was a key player when a Democratic-led Congress passed President Barack Obama's health care law. Pallone said he'll focus on putting forward legislation to protect that law and on lowering the cost of prescription drugs. He'll likely revisit legislation he has sponsored that would, among other things, restore marketing and outreach efforts to get more people enrolled in health insurance coverage and increase subsidies for poor and middle-income Americans.
Pallone said he also wants to boost broadband access, renewable energy and access to clean drinking water.
PETER DeFAZIO - Transportation and Infrastructure
DeFazio, 71, has hopes of working with the Trump administration on infrastructure legislation to generate jobs and repair roads, bridges and airports. He said he wants to work fast, before the 2020 presidential election process kicks in and makes it harder for anything substantial to get done. The obvious barrier is finding the money, at a time when the national deficit is already exploding. DeFazio, who represents Oregon's southern coastal counties, has put a tiny uptick in gasoline and diesel taxes on the table, but that's a tough sell with lawmakers.
The committee also has jurisdiction over the General Services Administration, the agency that manages real estate for the federal government, including the lease for the Trump Hotel in Washington. Democrats have sought information about the hotel's profitability and whether Trump is using the office of the presidency for private gain.
ADAM SMITH - Armed Services Committee
Smith, 53, says his top national security priority for the next Congress is oversight of the president, from "the politicization of the military, to his mismanagement of disaster response, to the lack of a consistent policy concerning civilian casualties, to his policies on Russia, and more." He said the panel needs to conduct aggressive oversight of the Pentagon's budget and weapons programs to ensure taxpayers are getting the best value. The Democrat from Washington state, who represents the central Puget Sound area, also said it's also important to safeguard "an inclusive military" by eliminating discriminatory barriers.
BENNIE THOMPSON - Homeland Security Committee
Thompson, 70, of Mississippi, will lead aggressive oversight of actions that the administration has taken on immigration, including its "zero tolerance" policy of prosecuting all adults caught crossing the border illegally and putting their children under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. The committee will also examine the administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico, incidents of domestic terrorism by U.S. citizens and what can be done to ensure election security. He represents the western and central parts of Mississippi.
RAUL GRIJALVA - Natural Resources Committee
Grijalva, 70, will likely lead a committee that has oversight over national parks and other public lands. The Arizona Democrat has pushed back against the Trump administration's efforts to expand mining and drilling on federal lands. He'll conduct oversight into the environmental toll of the administration's actions. He'll also emphasize stronger consultation with federal tribes before energy projects are approved. Tribes have complained that the Trump administration moved forward with the Keystone XL pipeline without adequate consultation and analysis of the potential impact on tribal lands. Grijalva's southwest Arizona district includes parts of Tucson.
MARK TAKANO - Veterans Affairs
Takano, 57, who represents the Riverside, California, area, is the favorite to serve as chairman of the committee after being endorsed by Rep. Tim Walz, who won election to serve as governor of Minnesota. The committee will have oversight of efforts to expand access to private health care providers. He says he would work to hold for-profit colleges accountable when they mislead student veterans and that he would continue work to advocate for deported veterans to ensure they get their citizenship and can access their benefits.
JIM McGOVERN - Rules Committee
McGovern, 58, will likely lead a panel that determines what bills are debated on the floor and what amendments are allowed to be voted on. McGovern has been critical of Republicans for blocking votes on amendments with broad public support, but it's unclear how far Democrats will go in reversing those practices. Pelosi has tasked McGovern, who represents central Massachusetts, with coming up with a package of rules governing the chamber, and it's expected to include a ban on House members sitting on corporate boards.
Rep. Julia Brownley of California, 66, is vying to serve as chairwoman. She tells colleagues that she would focus on ensuring the VA has the necessary resources to get veterans care from local health care providers without cannibalizing other VA programs. She would also seek to ensure that the administration takes steps to fill senior leadership vacancies and an estimated 46,000 vacant positions within the VA.