Newcomers prepare for the 110th Congress

  • Article by: ROB HOTAKAINEN and BRADY AVERILL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2006 - 8:31 PM

It was a search for back benches and bathrooms as they oriented themselves.

WASHINGTON - On her first night in Washington, Amy Klobuchar got together with a college roommate and spent the night in the friend's basement, calling it "my glamorous beginning."

At 46, she's the youngest of the 10 new senators who reported to work on Monday, but Minnesota's Democratic senator-elect said she figures she'll rank 98th in Senate seniority, ahead of the new senators from Montana and Rhode Island, because Minnesota is larger.

Monday was a day to find the back benches and the bathrooms as newcomers reported for duty. It was the first time in 60 years Minnesota voters sent four newcomers to Congress.

Reps.-elect Keith Ellison and Tim Walz, part of the new Democratic majority in the House, found themselves immediately getting lobbied to take sides in the contest to elect a new majority leader, which will be decided on Thursday. And Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann arrived early and got to do a little sightseeing, getting a glimpse of the Constitution on Sunday.

As the current Congress went back to work for a lame-duck session, the newcomers arrived to orient themselves to their new surroundings and prepare for the 110th Congress, which will convene in January.

New members did their work behind closed doors, learning how to get their offices up and running, prepare their budgets, use franking privileges and how to keep abreast of complicated ethics rules.

"My No. 1 goal is to not go to jail," Bachmann said, chuckling.

Klobuchar took part in her first news conference, appearing with other new senators and Sen. Harry Reid, who will become the new majority leader. Today she'll take part in leadership elections and will attend a "power coffee" with other female senators hosted by Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. Klobuchar said her husband, John, will be the only man at an event for Senate spouses in the Senate ladies lounge.

"He keeps asking me where his transition memos are," joked Klobuchar. She said she reminded her husband that Bill Clinton and Bob Dole are Senate spouses, too.

As Democrats prepare to control both the House and Senate for the first time since 1994, Klobuchar said she's hoping to get a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee as it prepares to write a new farm bill in 2007. She said she's been surprised by the bipartisan tone in Washington since the election.

"The president's reaching out -- [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld's already gone," Klobuchar said. "[Republican Sens.] Olympia Snowe and Norm Coleman both called me. And I'm very hopeful that we're ushering in an era where we're actually going to be getting things done for the people of our state, which they haven't been doing for six years."

Ellison said he was "really honored" to be in Washington. He said he would return to Minnesota this weekend and would not be the keynote speaker at the annual banquet for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that was a flashpoint in the fall campaign. His appearance had already been announced by CAIR, but Ellison said it was the result of a "natural, normal miscommunication."

Walz said he was humbled to be on Capitol Hill. He predicted that Democrats and Republicans would work together in the new Congress.

"I think we have to, and I think that's what people expect," Walz said. He also said that Election Day was not a mandate for Democrats, but a mandate for members to get over pettiness. Said Bachmann, "There will be very real differences. ... You have to have a sense of humor."

Ellison and Walz were under pressure to decide whether to back Rep. John Murtha or Rep. Steny Hoyer for majority leader. But neither was ready to commit on Monday.

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