Georgia’s new members of Congress get D.C. orientation

WASHINGTON — Among the highlights of Atlanta Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams’ first week on Capitol Hill was the chance to meet Democratic leaders who were once role models and are now colleagues.

She found herself in the same room with California Rep. Barbara Lee, whose memoir is a guide for party activists. Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass shared pointers about how Congress works and identifying the playmakers. Then, another one of the party’s leaders reached out.

“Today, I got a message that Congresswoman Maxine Waters wanted to meet down in the hotel lobby,” Williams said Tuesday. “And I came down, and she just wanted to check in and see how things were going and make sure that I was alright and give us advice on being here.”

These encounters were sandwiched between a litany of meetings and workshops that all members-elect to the U.S. House attended this week.

Williams is among the four from Georgia who are part of the group, which will be sworn in on Jan. 3. The others are Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux of Suwanee and Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome and Andrew Clyde of Athens.

Rep. Austin Scott is now the longest-serving Georgia Republican in Congress. He shared advice this week with Greene and Clyde about how to position themselves for committee assignments by meeting members of the steering committee that makes the decisions.

“Make sure that you know which committee you want to be on,” Scott said he told them. “And let the rest of the members of the Georgia delegation know so we can use our relationship with people to get you on those committees to help you be an effective member of Congress and help the residents of the state of Georgia.”

The COVID-19 pandemic required changes to the orientation week itinerary. Organized social activities and formal dinners were replaced with impromptu gatherings and grab-and-go meals.

But most of the subject matter remained unchanged. The incoming members were briefed on ethics rules and coached on hiring staff and establishing their offices. They got their official photo taken and learned about how to cast votes on the House floor.

Finally, they helped elect congressional leaders for their respective parties. Williams was selected by her peers to serve as president of this year’s freshman class of Democrats. The role is largely symbolic but will boost her profile among the new members and give her a seat at the table with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.

All the new members will return to Washington after the Thanksgiving holiday for more meetings and a lottery that determines where their D.C. office will be located.

Greene made the most of her first week in D.C. by attending activities outside of the official program, such as speaking at a pro-Trump demonstration last weekend.

She also posted videos of workouts inside her hotel room, which she said she had to use due to D.C. closing its workout facilities during the pandemic. That isn’t the case — D.C. gyms are open to members by appointment.

Bourdeaux spent her time between meetings looking for an apartment big enough for her husband and 8-year-old son, who she expects will accompany her on most trips to Washington. But more than that, she said she is thinking about how she wants her first term in Congress to shape up.

“I think our first major priority is dealing with COVID,” she said, “getting control of crushing the disease and getting our children back in school and our economy rebooted.”