WASHINGTON, D.C. – Here in Washington, just after Thanksgiving, the newly elected members of Congress will begin week two of orientation to learn how to hire staff, where the bathrooms are located, and the basic infrastructure involved in operating as a legislator.
And as the nation heads into a holding pattern over the holiday season, the debate rages over the current power structure on Capitol Hill and whether the parties’ successful stifling of the debate will continue as 90 new members of Congress take their seats.
After months spent campaigning, freshman congress-people face questions about how they will hold on to their campaign promises and whether they will toe the line of stoking outrage and shoring up their side.
Here are a few newbies who have sparked a national curiosity over their stances and what to watch as they take their seats in January.
1. The Young Trump Defender
During a televised roundtable of freshman, Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), a former Navy SEAL, asked, “What democratic freedoms have been undermined? This broad brush criticism that the president is somehow undermining our democracy, I always wonder what exactly we’re talking about.”
At the same time Crenshaw, pointed out that Trump has a worrying “style” problem, but the basics of undermining democracy aren’t there. Right on cue in this roundtable, and as the host correctly recognizes, the issue of Trump is what got these new members of Congress hot under the collar.
Keep an eye on how willing Crenshaw and new legislators of like mind are to consistently criticize President Trump beyond style problems, especially when the president goes tone deaf and wreaks havoc on legislation they may support.
2. The Climate Crusader
The Progressive Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is one of over 110 women who have been elected to the House, and the youngest woman ever to win a congressional election. She has gained applause and derision, depending on the commentator’s ideology, for her stances on higher education, health care, and Palestine.
However, she cut her political teeth on climate change and environmental protections as an activist protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline and at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
And just last week, she stopped by Nancy Pelosi’s office to show her support for protesters who questioned the minority speaker’s continued support of green initiatives such as the Cap and Trade legislation she pushed through in the 1990s.
What to Watch: Keep a close eye on how far Cortez’s rhetoric will take her on Capitol Hill and how willing she is to compromise on energy and conservation issues.
3. ‘No-More Nancy’
On the weekend talk show circuit, Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said on ABC that although she has “tremendous” respect for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has “blazed a trail” for women, she will vote against her as she seeks the speakership position again.
Last week, a letter signed by 16 Democrats, including five freshmen, was circulated through the halls of Congress, stating that they will not support Pelosi and urging others to vote against her.
While the letter may not help to derail the final vote, it is still a sign of a broader pushback.
“If we are going to turn a page and bring civility back to the political discussions, we need to change the people who are directing that conversation,” Spanberger said.
This first vote is rich material for future campaign attack ads against the freshman as she seeks re-election in two years, especially if the vote backfires and Pelosi retains power. The first weeks of January will show us whether Spanberger and her colleagues will hold to this line of thinking
After the 116th Congress is sworn in on January 3, and the first session rapidly unfolds, the nation will see whether the newbies will earnestly work to serve the voters and play hard to win the game, or if they will go the way of senior legislators and sit on the sidelines screaming.
Social media is its own freshman. It could increasingly change the game of voter interactions on the Hill. As a generation that came of age with apps like Instagram slowly takes power, it is galvanizing a younger voter.
Ocasio-Cortez alone has over half a million followers on Instagram. That’s more than House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and former House Speaker Paul Ryan combined.
Well over two-thirds of people ages 18 to 24 now use Instagram in the United States, according to a report from the Pew Research Center published in March.
At times, Ocasio-Cortez’s following jumped by 20,000 in a day. In one week of orientation, the media watched voraciously through Instagram as she posted about sexism, protestors, and hopes for the future. She also used it to hit back at critics.
While nearly all members are on Facebook or Twitter, only about 50% are on Instagram, according to the Congressional Research Service.