The nation might be collectively taking a deep breath after the November election, but the six new members of California’s 55-person congressional delegation have barely had time to do the same.
“You win and literally two days later you’re getting Federal Express packages,” Rep.-elect Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) said in an interview at the Capitol. “You just finished a very contentious, tough journey, you have a day to breathe, if at all, and then you are here.”
Carbajal and his fellow soon-to-be freshmen from California just wrapped up two weeks of day-long classes on Capitol Hill learning about cybersecurity, ethics, protocol, how to write legislation and how to manage the budgets for their offices in Washington and back home.
They have to hustle. They take the oath of office Jan. 3.
Along the way they attended glitzy receptions in the Capitol and the Library of Congress, scoured the city for a reasonably priced place to live and started interviewing staff.
Rep.-elect Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, whom he is replacing, warned him orientation would feel like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant.
“I’m 59 years old next month and I’m starting out like a rookie,” he said.
Correa plans to save on commuting time by joining the ranks of House members — mostly Republicans — who sleep in their offices, at least at first. That decision was made easier Thursday when he drew the first pick in the traditional new member office lottery and got to choose the best of the available offices.
“The most precious thing I have here is going to be my time. I already feel it,” Correa said. “I thought after the election I’d have some downtime, uh-huh. It just doesn’t stop and I think it’s going to get worse.”
Correa grew up in a neighborhood where many young people ended up in jail or prison, he said, and the outpouring of support from people he knew from those days has been humbling. He paused to take a few deep breaths, wiping away a few tears that had managed to creep up.
“We grew up with a lot of bad stuff and one of us made it out,” he said. “It’s a testament to this great country.”
After the freshman class photo on the House steps, Rep.-elect Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro) paused to speak with a Telemundo reporter.
The 44th District victor said in an interview that she feels an added responsibility because Donald Trump will be in the White House next year.
“When you have a president who is demeaning women, demeaning immigrants, I think it’s a time for me really to be a leader in standing up not only for immigrants, but for women,” she said.
Her mother, an immigrant with a third-grade education, will make her first trip to Washington on Jan. 3 to see her daughter sworn in as a member of Congress.
“While my mom may not completely understand what Congress does and the importance of it, there’s no doubt that she’s just over the moon,” Barragán said.
Rep.-elect Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) compared orientation to starting school.
“It’s a little bit like being a freshman in college. It’s overwhelming, you’re learning where the buildings are and how to get your IDs and make sure you know how to vote,” he said.
The only new lawmaker from California who ousted an incumbent, Khanna is coming to Congress with an unusual goal. He wants to persuade Silicon Valley tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook to create jobs in middle America.
“Tech has an obligation and a responsibility to see how they can create some of these jobs,” he said, cradling a cup of coffee in the lobby of the hotel reserved for freshmen members. “Obviously I want jobs in my district, but I think there is a broader responsibility.”
Being on Capitol Hill is a homecoming of sorts for Rep.-elect Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel), who spent the early 1990s living with his father, former Rep. Leon Panetta, and several other politicians in a row house near the Capitol.
“I know how to find my way around,” Panetta said. “I’m in that fortunate position where I don’t have to worry about the little stuff and I can focus on the big stuff.”
Last week, House Democrats elected Panetta as a regional whip, meaning he’ll help leadership gather information, lobby rank-and-file lawmakers on major issues and count votes among Democrats from California’s Central Coast, Northern California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.
Panetta said he’s keeping in mind what his father and his predecessor, retiring Rep. Sam Farr, meant to his new constituents.
“There are some big shoes to fill, I get that. If I’m fortunate enough to just put a toe or a couple of toes into those shoes, I’ll have done a good job,” he said.
Carbajal, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, said his one disappointment from orientation was hearing he won’t be able to personally keep up with the flood of calls and emails to his new office.
He immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 5 years old and is going to represent the same area where his father was a farmworker.
“I pinch myself that a young immigrant boy from humble beginnings can have an opportunity to serve in Congress,” Carbajal said.
Sen.-elect Kamala Harris’ transition has been a little more fluid. Senators don’t have as structured of an orientation, and largely hear from panels of their future peers over a three-day crash course.
She got her first taste of the frantic media scrums that surround senators between votes when she accompanied her new partner, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), to Senate leadership elections a few weeks ago.
Harris said she was struck by the grooves worn into the Senate’s marble stairs by the millions of people who have climbed them over the decades.
“I was awestruck. When you remember, and think of the history of what happens in that chamber and in the halls of the United States Congress, period. … It’s pretty incredible,” she said.
Because Senate offices are assigned based on seniority and sitting senators have months to decide if they want to move offices, she could be in her a temporary office in the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building until early next summer.
But since few offices can physically hold a staff as large as the one allocated to the California members, Harris hinted she wouldn’t mind keeping Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office in the Hart Senate Office building.
After all, she’s worked in it before. Harris interned in that very office for Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) as a Howard University student in the 1980s.
The rest of the Capitol complex has changed a lot in the more than 30 years since.
“I am completely lost,” Harris admitted. “I got lost a couple of times and I’ve met a couple of bright-eyed 20-year-old interns who were happy to show me the way. Moments like this one cannot suffer from pride.”
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Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics