“This is perfect.”
Georgia Congresswoman-elect Lucy McBath beamed as she gazed at the Southward vista from her new Capitol Hill office on Friday afternoon.
The corner suite was darkened and sparsely decorated — its current tenant, Kentucky Republican James Comer, was still in the process of vacating — but the blue-carpeted workspace still thrilled the Marietta Democrat.
The quiet moment on the fifth floor of the Longworth House Office Building capped off a whirlwind November for Georgia's newest member of Congress. McBath edged out Republican incumbent Karen Handel in the 6th Congressional District, an unexpected and symbolically important win for Democrats in a suburban Atlanta district that last year was the site of a blockbuster special election.
“I still keep pinching myself,” McBath told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in her first extended interview since she won her race. “Like wow, I’m actually here and able to really serve and represent people and make sure that I’m a voice for them, and I’m excited about that. I’m just grateful.”
McBath is arriving in Washington as one of the most closely-watched members of the freshman class. Even before her 6th District upset, McBath had a national profile as a gun control advocate after her teenage son was fatally shot in 2012. Now Republicans will be tracking her every move as they seek to win back the 6th District seat in 2020, starting with McBath's expected "aye" vote on Nancy Pelosi's speakership.
McBath said she's still figuring out which committees and caucuses she'd like to join, but two of her top legislative priorities, gun control and voting rights, line up with the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee, a powerful panel that Handel has served on during her nearly 18 months in Congress.
“I do support the Second Amendment, but I just want to make sure that we’re closing the loopholes and preventing unnecessary gun violence,” she said.
McBath said she also wants to focus on tackling health care costs and infrastructure, the latter she sees as ripe for bipartisanship with Republican members of the Georgia delegation.
Superstitions, paint and chips
McBath spent the two weeks sandwiching Thanksgiving in Washington for freshman orientation. The process included briefings on congressional ethics rules and how to hire staff, party leadership elections and — a new addition for the #MeToo era — training on how to prevent sexual harassment.
The process was not unlike corporate onboarding or college orientation. The House’s 101 newly-elected lawmakers mingled with one another, received congressional cellphones and ID badges — and entered the famously rowdy House office lottery.
Hundreds of members-elect, aides, spouses and reporters crowded a hearing room Friday, where lawmakers were called up alphabetically to draw numbered tokens that determined their office selection order. Participants hooted and cheered as their soon-to-be-colleagues drew their tokens, and some performed rituals as they walked to the front of the room to pick their own from an old wooden box.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made the sign of the cross, Sharice Davids hit the carpet for push ups and another member-elect “flossed” for good luck. McBath did a little jig as she stepped up to the podium and completed an encore when she drew a low number.
After making her office selection, McBath and an aide huddled with staffers from the offices of the Architect of the Capitol and Chief Administrative Officer to select paint colors (muted gray), furniture (blue couches with gold detailing and a mahogany finish) and draw up blueprints for the office layout (“clean and open”).
McBath still has a lot of work to do before she is officially sworn in on Jan. 3. She has to finish hiring staffers for her Washington and district offices and moving into an 800-square-foot Capitol Hill apartment she plans to occupy on weekdays when Congress is in session.
But on Friday afternoon, some of McBath’s strongest opinions centered on the kind of food she’d stock in her new office.
Georgia lawmakers typically offer guests home-grown snacks, including peanuts and Coca-Cola. McBath said she also wanted to keep on hand bags of Welch's fruit snacks and potato chips "for the Parkland kids," the teenagers-turned-gun control advocates she's grown close to since the February shootings at their Florida high school, the tragedy that inspired her to run for Congress.
“They eat a lot of potato chips,” she said, “so I’ve got to give them potato chips.”
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com