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Analysis: 113th Congress Begins With New Lawmakers And Old Challenges

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The 113th Congress began yesterday, with freshmen sworn in and leadership chosen. And there are a couple of new faces on Capitol Hill from our region. But one thing is not changing: D.C. still doesn't have a vote on the House floor. David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, talks about the latest on the Hill.

On D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton being denied a vote again by the House leadership when the House acts as a Committee of the Whole: "The 'Committee of the Whole' is the parliamentary posture that the House puts itself in when it debates its most important bills. It allows sort of an easier debate, and an amendment of legislation. Eleanor Holmes Norton has positions on committees; she can vote on committees, she can vote on legislations, she can vote on legislation in committee, and after that her power stops. Up until Republicans took back control of the House, Norton had the power to vote in the 'Committee of the Whole' so long as her vote didn't matter. It was sort of a halfway thing. She could vote on amendments, but unless her vote changed the outcome, in which case her vote went away. She says it's rare to have a vote and then have it taken away. The Republicans don't want her to have the vote, and they turned her down."

On Norton challenging this decision by the Republican leadership: "It turned out to be the first of many party lines votes on the House floor this year. All of the Republicans voted to deny her of this vote. Really what she was asking for wasn't really a vote... she was asking for a study of getting her vote back. She thought that maybe that halfway measure would do it, but no. All of the Democrats voted with her, all of the Republicans voted against her. And she lost."

On Democrat John Delaney replacing longtime Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in Maryland's 6th District, and what he brings to the House: "He brings an outsider's perspective. He's never held elected office before, which is sort of rare for somebody from the Maryland delegation. It's traditionally been populated by career politician types. He brings investment banking experience, which is why the Democrats gave him a seat on the Financial Services Committee, and why so many members had receptions yesterday to welcome people in. He had plenty of financial services people milling around. When you're the congressman from the closed-in D.C. suburbs, almost every lobbyist from every industry thinks that they have a piece of you because so many of them live in the congressman's district."

On Virginia's Tim Kaine is replacing fellow Democrat Jim Webb in the U.S. Senate: "He also had his fair share of welcome. There were ceremonies on the Senate floor. It's one of the great ceremonies of democracy when you are sworn in as a new senator. You can bring one person from your state with you, sort of as your supporter. He did the customary thing, which is to bring the state's other senator with him, Sen. Warner... those two seem to be a good partnership, as least at the start."

On what these first days are like for members of Congress: "It's pretty heady and exalting stuff. The cynics, or the people who just finished covering the last Congress, are kind of exhausted and cynical. But if you're a new member, hope springs eternal. Your service of the Congress will be different, but others say it's all downhill from here."


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