WASHINGTON - On their first night in Washington since winning election, incoming lawmakers were taken on a tour of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. They were given a chance to sit in the House chamber, most of them for the first time.
For Steven Horsford, it was an eye-opener.
"I've never sat on the floor of the House, so that put things in perspective, and it started to settle in for me this is real," said Horsford, elected to represent Nevada's new 4th Congressional District.
Dina Titus was on the tour too, but she hardly needed a road map after already having spent dozens of hours on the House floor. She is one of nine lawmakers returning to Congress after having served previously.
Both Nevada Democrats took part this week in freshman orientation: seminars and briefings on House rules and ethics, hiring and office budgeting. The 79 newcomers will return after Thanksgiving for more training and to select offices for when they start work in January.
The Nevadans also are emblematic of a House Democratic caucus that for the first time will contain more women and minorities than white males.
Horsford, who will be Nevada's first African-American congressman, started from scratch, attending class while his wife, Sonya, went to briefings for congressional spouses.
Already up on most nuts and bolts, Titus, 62, attended sessions on ethics rules changes since she served in 2009 and 2010. She lost to Republican Rep. Joe Heck in the 3rd Congressional District in 2010, but this year won the 1st Congressional District seat vacated when Rep. Shelley Berkley ran for the Senate.
Returning lawmakers such as Titus get to keep their seniority from earlier stints, meaning she will get dibs on more attractive offices and some priority on committee assignments.
Titus also lobbied Democratic leaders to be placed on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which carries a broad portfolio including health care policy, telecommunications, consumer affairs, tourism and energy matters.
When Titus was in the House, Democrats used their majority to pass major economic stimulus, health care, financial reform and climate bills. Now they are in the minority of a body that has been criticized for rampant partisanship the past two years.
"So that will take a little getting used to, probably," Titus said. "So much was happening when I was here before and so little happened last session. I am hoping it will be somewhere in between."
Besides, Titus said, she served in the minority during her 20-year career in the Nevada Senate, "so it won't be that new."
Depending on the outlook for a productive session on Capitol Hill, Titus said, she might shift more staff and spending to a Las Vegas district office.
"If no laws are moving, we can be helping people with grant applications, with following regulations, ways to bring things home to the district other than legislation or earmarks if that is not going on here" in Washington, she said.
Also, she said, her new district is more diverse than the one she represented in the Las Vegas suburbs.
"You have all of Chinatown, all of the Hispanic east side, a lot of small businesses that are family-owned in there," she said.
"We are going to do that kind of outreach, maybe government procurement programs, things that can help small businesses and reach out to those ethnic communities."
Horsford, 39, said he plans to prioritize constituent services in a sprawling district that includes parts of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, rural parts of Clark County and all or part of six rural counties.
"My first priority is my district office," he said, adding that it will be based in Clark County with satellite offices to follow. "Getting our staff in place so we are responsive to our constituents, and the rest will fall in place."
Horsford, who was majority leader in the state Senate, plans to join the Congressional Black Caucus, saying it will ally him with lawmakers with similar interests in jobs and small business.
Horsford also said he plans to reintroduce a bill to declare prized fossil beds at Tule Springs in the northern swath of Clark County as a federally protected national monument.
He also held open the possibility that the Obama administration might act administratively on Tule Springs. "We are looking at all the options, any and all possibilities," he said.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.