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Continued: Nov. 17, 2006: Taking her place

  • Article by: BY KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 21, 2007 - 11:31 AM

Vice President Dick Cheney was holding a drink and talking to someone. The First Lady was there, as well as other assorted dignitaries and White House press secretary Tony Snow.

Then suddenly the president came walking down a hall. Bachmann caught his eye.

"I was blown away," she said. "Here was the leader of the free world who knew this nobody from nowhere. He knew my name."

It might have seemed less surprising to others, recalling that Bush was in Minnesota raising money for Bachmann in August.

But for Bachmann, the immensity of it all was still sinking in. When would it seem real?

"Probably when we come back January third and get sworn in," she said. "We haven't really stopped going since the election. We've been going non-stop making phone calls, making arrangements, so we really haven't had a day off."

'You're never lonely here'

First came the calls from friends and family, and then there were the congratulatory phone calls from Reps. John Boehner and Mike Pence, both vying for votes for House Republican leader.

"I don't think there's anybody who hasn't asked for support yet," she said, remaining uncommitted until today's vote.

Then there were the travel arrangements to Washington. She left with her husband on Saturday, instead of Sunday, to get half-price tickets.

"I wanted my first act as a congresswoman-elect to be to save money for the people back home," she said.

This week, most of her time has been taken up in "congressman school," learning how to put together a staff, vote and how to keep out of ethics controversies.

Her interim chief of staff, Steve Sutton, borrowed from Minnesota Rep. John Kline's office, said her legislative experience has made her a quick study. Given the dwindling pool of Republican slots, however, he said he doubts she'll get the spots she wants on the Transportation and Financial Services committees.

A few other teachable moments: House members sit on benches, not at desks, and "you debate to the camera, you don't debate each other," she said.

That is fine with Bachmann's Republican colleagues, who see her as telegenic and articulate, with a deft touch talking to the national news media.

"The House Republicans' long-term goal is to regain a majority in the House of Representatives," said Sutton, a veteran of four House office start-ups. "She'll play a very important role in that. She won a swing district in a very difficult year."

Until then, she's not worried about getting lonely in a House full of Democrats. "I understand you're never lonely here," she said. "There's always somebody knocking on your door."

Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.

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