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Los Angeles' newest congressman gets no orientation as he arrives in Washington

Rep. Jimmy Gomez is sworn in as representative of the 34th Congressional District

Rep.-elect Jimmy Gomez talks a lot about things being temporary.

He was sworn in Tuesday, seven months after most of his colleagues came to Washington, and that meant a lot of decisions already had been made for this Congress.

Committee rosters have been set for months, and he’ll get what spots are available. He’ll find short-term housing. Gomez joked Monday about feeling like he’s squatting in the luxe space his predecessor worked in as a senior House member, and which likely will be snatched up by someone who’s been in Washington longer when offices are up for grabs again in 2019.

The day before he was to become a member of Congress, the muted yellow walls were bare, as were the bookshelves that line the wall. The only decorations in the room were American and California flags framing a window. On his wood desk, an open laptop and Starbucks coffee cup sat alone.

The interns in the foyer discussed where to find the “cage,” a storage space, with plans to comb through it for any decor left behind by the former occupant, Xavier Becerra.

L.A.'s new Democratic congressman has been in the majority his whole career. Now he's going to Washington »


What training did Gomez get on how to be a congressman?

In a word, none.

Freshman representatives normally attend two weeks of training after the election. The preparation covers matters such as cybersecurity, ethics, protocol and how to write legislation and manage the budgets for offices in Washington and back home. But Gomez didn’t get the same orientation. He was one of five people sent to Congress in special elections this year, and the intense training isn’t offered for them.

“They don’t tell you much. They give you a stack of papers,” Gomez said. “They haven’t given us much guidance … so I’ve had to rely on my staff who have been here.”

Gomez’s new chief of staff, Bertha Alisa Guerrero, had worked at the House Natural Resources Committee. His legislative director, Andrew Noh, was poached from Rep. Linda Sanchez’s office, where he focused on healthcare.

“Having that sort of expertise will be very useful,” Gomez said. “They’re good complements to what I want to try to focus in on here.”

Gomez was once a Hill staffer, working in the early 2000s to help then-Rep. Hilda Solis (D-El Monte) write legislation. Coming back to Washington as a member is very different, he said.

“It’s just a different place. I don’t think I’m going to have as much fun as I did as a staffer, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s an exciting adventure,” Gomez said.

Gomez said when he visited Washington in June after the election, it started to feel official.

“They just handed me this stack of keys and were like, ‘Here you go,’ ” Gomez said. “I didn’t have to sign for anything.”

Where will he live?

“Right now, I’m staying in a hotel [while] my family is visiting, and then I’ll look for a room or something and then maybe buy a place or look for an apartment,” Gomez said.

He last lived in Washington in 2006 and rented a 13 x 20 studio apartment on Capitol Hill for $750 a month.

“I know that place doesn’t exist and that price doesn’t exist anymore,” Gomez said.

A decade later, a similar-sized studio apartment close to the Capitol would start at around $1,500 a month.

Jimmy Gomez sworn into Congress »

How is he fitting in with the rest of the largest delegation in Congress?

“We all kind of know each other from Democratic politics in California and Los Angeles, but it’s a different thing to also be one of their colleagues and be in the same House, to work on issues together, to have disagreements,” Gomez said. “That’s going to be something new. I’m going to ... first try to listen and get to know them.”

Before he was elected to the Assembly in 2012, Gomez was political director for the United Nurses Assn. of California, and got to know some of the lawmakers the powerful union endorsed. Others he worked with in Sacramento.

Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) gave him advice about how Washington differs from California’s capital city, and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) offered to help him get a better understanding of South Korean politics.

Which committees will he serve on?

The day before his swearing-in, Gomez still hadn’t learned his assignments, and recognized he likely won’t get his choices.

“I expressed interest in a few different areas. I want to work on environmental issues. I’d love to work on paid family leave, but we’re still trying to figure out how to do that as the 434th member out of 434,” Gomez said. “Being the youngest of six, I’m used to getting the leftovers anyway.”

There are vacancies on the Small Business, and Science, Space and Technology committees, according to the House clerk, but House leaders still could consider his interests and appoint Gomez to other panels.

He’d like to one day serve on Appropriations — the crucial panel on spending he once led in the Assembly— or on Energy and Commerce.

“This year is just going to be a learning opportunity, really buckling down, taking advantage of the opportunity I’m given, learning,” Gomez said.

What topics does he hope to focus on?

Gomez hopes to work on topics he advocated in the Assembly, including the restoration of the Los Angeles River.

The river restoration “is still a worthwhile project,” Gomez said. “It’s not just a storm drain or something that separates people. [It’s] something that can really bring people together.”

He also plans to spend time talking with different constituent interest groups in the district. Gomez’s Assembly seat included about half of the district, and Gomez repeatedly spoke about reaching out to the Asian community. (To win the seat, he defeated Robert Lee Ahn, a Korean American who spent heavily to register new voters in the Korean American community and turning them out at the polls.)

“In Koreatown, the issues that they deal with are very different than the people in unincorporated East Los Angeles, even though there are some similarities,” he said.

Gomez said he’ll join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Gomez is Latino, as is 65% of his district, but 20% of the district is Asian.

The Future Forum group of young(ish) House members, led by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), also has reached out.

“I never thought I’d be viewed as a baby at 42. In the Legislature, I’m about the average age, and here, I’m on the young end,” Gomez said. “I don’t feel that young.”

What has surprised him about coming to Congress?

Gomez said he’s been struck by how much his election has meant to his mother, who immigrated from Mexico and was in the chamber to watch him take the oath of office Tuesday.

“We took a photo in front of the Capitol, and she got a little emotional, which is surprising because my mom does not show emotion. She’s a pretty stern individual,” Gomez said.

“I think that just kind of seeing this, getting sworn in here and what it means in the history of this country, what it means for immigrants, I think that’s special and it has to remind us what it’s about: It’s about giving people inspiration and hope that once they come here and once they become citizens or they’re born here, that they’re a part of this country. I didn’t know that that is how this would feel for her.”

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sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

Also:

Scenes from Gomez’s being sworn into Congress

L.A.'s new Democratic congressman has been in the majority his whole career. Now he's going to Washington

Jimmy Gomez scheduled to be sworn in more than a month after he was elected to Congress



UPDATES:

July 13, 10:50 a.m.: This article was updated with details from Gomez’s swearing-in ceremony.

This article was originally published at 12 p.m. July 11.

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