New Congress members arrive amid uncertain presidential vote

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Amid presidential uncertainty and a wafer-thin Republican majority, the House freshman class for the 107th Congress began learning the ways of the Capitol on Monday. Members of both parties said the close election results could signal improved cooperation during the next two years.

"I am optimistic because we have a block of 40 new members of Congress that maybe aren’t familiar with the old system," said Democratic Rep.-elect Jim Langevin of Rhode Island.

As of Monday, there were 41 House newcomers — 28 Republicans and 13 Democrats — with unsettled races in New Jersey and Florida.

Besides those races, Republicans now hold 220 seats in the incoming House and the Democrats have 211. There are two independents, one aligned with each party, giving the GOP an effective edge of 221-212 at the moment.

The freshmen are spending the week on such mundane tasks as picking offices and touring buildings and on weightier matters such as choosing leaders. House Republicans are expected Ttoday to return their top four: Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Dick Armey, Majority Whip Tom DeLay and GOP Conference Chairman J.C. Watts.

Similarly, Democrats appear likely to keep Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, Minority Whip David Bonior and Caucus Chairman Martin Frost in a vote set for Wednesday. Over the past two years, the unsuccessful Democratic drive to regain House control gave cooperation little chance.

"I’m hopeful we are going to find ways we can work together," said Rep.-elect Hilda Solis, D-Calif. "Since we are not in the majority as Democrats, it’s going to be an uphill battle."

The organizational meetings are taking place as the outgoing 106th Congress struggles to finish the long-overdue budget and the nation is held rapt by the Florida recount, which could finally settle the race for president and have a significant effect on next year’s legislative agenda.

"We all have the sense that we’re here at a historic moment," said Rep.-elect Adam Schiff, D-Calif. "What we don’t know is how it’s going to turn out."

The makeup of the incoming freshman class is heavily weighted toward public service, with 22 state legislators, two lieutenant governors, a secretary of state and several current or former congressional or White House staffers. Unlike past years, only 11 are attorneys, and 12 from business.

There is one famous former college football coach: Republican Tom Osborne of Nebraska.

Republican Mike Rogers, of Michigan, is a former FBI agent. The CIA is represented as well: Republican Rob Simmons, who ousted veteran Democrat Sam Gejdenson in Connecticut, earned two Bronze Stars in Vietnam with the Army before joining the CIA and serving five additional years in East Asia.

Rep.-elect Mike Honda, D-Calif., is a Japanese-American whose family was held in a U.S. internment camp during World War II.

That was long before the youngest member of the new class was born: Rep.-elect Adam Putnam, R-Fla., is just 26.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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