There’s a good chance Charlie Bass and Steve Chabot won’t get in trouble for skipping some of the orientation meetings for House freshmen last week.
They’ve already gone through it once.
New Hampshire Rep-elect Bass and Rep.-elect Chabot of Ohio went through their first orientation in 1994, when Republicans famously took both Houses of Congress in a landslide election that was considered a “repudiation” (that’s what they called it back then) of the sitting president. Sound familiar?
It sure does to them. As younger men, they were members of the Republican Revolution freshman class and signers of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” in 1994.
They were also victims of the Great Anti-Republican Fervor, better known as the later Bush years. Bass went down first in 2006, losing to Democrat Paul Hodes, a New Hampshire musician-cum-lawyer-cum-politician. Chabot hung on through The Thumpin’ but was swept away by the Obama tidal wave of 2008.
After a few years in the wilderness thinking about what went wrong, Bass and Chabot are back in Washington. They joined the class of about 80 new Republican rep-elects in Washington last week for a crash course on the basics of being a member of Congress. Both made it clear that they’ve learned their lesson from their past losses.
“We need to get it right this time,” Chabot said on the first day of freshman orientation while surrounded by hoards of wide-eyed newbies in dark suits who were noticeably lost amid the long hallways, dead-ends and winding staircases that snake their way through the labyrinth that is the U.S. Capitol building. “We went off track”
“I think he’s right,” Bass said when asked, later that week.
They’re referring to a Republican Party that, just a few years after vowing to change America, put its support behind a GOP president that spent more taxpayer money than any executive since Lyndon Baines Johnson. (Two wars that were becoming unpopular with the American people and a devastating economic collapse near the end didn’t help much, either.)
“Republicans became too much like Democrats in the spending department and we were punished, and rightfully so,” Chabot conceded.
Although they have both gone through the whole process once: learning how to cast a vote for legislation, sitting through seminars on how to find time to spend with the family, how not to end up like New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel, etc… the two veterans said they couldn’t get enough of orientation week, despite skipping a few meetings here and there.
“I think this is going to be an entirely new experience for me, and I’m not the slightest bit bored by it,” Bass said. Chabot, who also toyed with the idea of playing hooky a few times last week, said that he used the time to get to know some of the new members-elect.
Both men seemed keenly aware that their freedom to walk through the Capitol Building without a visitors badge was not due to some newfound American love of the GOP.
“This was not an affirmation of Republican principles,” Bass said when asked about the election. Not to miss an opportunity to take a swipe at the opposition, he added, “This was a condemnation of the performance of the Democrats.”
These super-freshmen will have plenty of time to discuss the future of the party. As fate would have it, their offices turned out to be next door to each other.
At the end of the orientation week, the two were spotted posing for a special picture together on the Capitol steps.
“Steve and I joke about this,” Bass said. “We’re the only two members of Congress that have been majority makers twice. But we immediately follow that by saying, nobody cares.”