Newcomers learn to navigate life on Capitol Hill

GWEN IFILL: Congress returned to Washington yesterday, along with a few dozen newly elected members.

The "NewsHour"'s Domenico Montanaro spoke with some of the newcomers as they learned how to navigate life on Capitol Hill.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: While the new Congress doesn't start until January, its newest members are in town this week for orientation, a kind of lawmaker boot camp.

It's a time of transition on Capitol Hill. One in eight congressional offices is getting a new boss, with a total of 70 new members coming in. Most of them are staying here in the Capitol Hill Hotel. For members of both parties, it's a hectic time.

REP.-ELECT MIMI WALTERS, (R) California: It's been a whirlwind so far.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: New member Mimi Walters arrived Tuesday night and already has a long to-do list.

MIMI WALTERS: There's so many people we have to meet. There's so many things we have to get done. We have to hire our staff. We have to get our offices. We have to find a place to live. We have to get oriented with Washington, D.C.

WOMAN: Hi. How are you, sweetie?

DOMENICO MONTANARO: The California Republican was elected from a district some 2,600 miles away. We caught up with her while she was taking a look at potential office space.

MIMI WALTERS: Oh, my gosh, these offices are so small.

WOMAN: I know.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: But even small offices can have hidden perks.

MIMI WALTERS: This is cool.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Some come with makeshift balconies like this one, with room enough for a barbecue grill, at least a tiny one.

REP.-ELECT CARLOS CURBELO, (R) Florida: I'm tired, but I'm very excited.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Another incoming congressman who traveled a long way to Washington is Miami native Carlos Curbelo. He's one of 15 Republicans who beat out a Democratic incumbent, helping expand the Republican majority in the House. He got through a tough campaign, but on a 65-degree day, he's facing another challenge.

CARLOS CURBELO: This is cold by our standards, not cool, as I was told when I got on the plane. This is cold. It's too windy. But we will be making use of the tunnels down here under the Capitol.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: While new members are trying to figure out office space and the weather, those at the top levels in the Capitol are busy with something else, reshaping the political landscape.

JIM MANLEY, Former Senior adviser to Senator Harry Reid: That's what this week is all about, trying to listen to the caucus, try and figure out what exactly they want to do during the lame-duck and what exactly is going to have to be punted until next year.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Jim Manley worked on the Hill for two decades, including six years for Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.

JIM MANLEY: There's a whole bunch of people that are getting ready to move from the minority to the majority who are anxious to try and execute the levers of power to the extent they can.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: And right now, that's Republicans, fresh off their big wins on election night, chief among them, taking control of the Senate.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the man who will lead the new Senate starting in January, is already rallying his troops.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Minority Leader: Last week, the American people sent a strong message to Washington. They voted for a new direction. They called for change in way the we do things here in the Senate. And they sent a new team to Washington to carry their wishes forward. And we plan to do just that.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: For new members, the lowest on the totem pole in a place dominated by seniority, they, too, are ready to get to work. But they will have to wait at least a few more weeks before that can happen.

Domenico Montanaro, "PBS NewsHour" on Capitol Hill.

GWEN IFILL: You can find a breakdown by the numbers of the incoming congressional class on our Web site.