Illinois' Newly-Elected Democratic Members of Congress Learn the Ropes

The incoming freshman class includes three Democrats from the Chicago area: Lauren Underwood, Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia and Sean Casten

Just days after being elected to Congress, the new members arrived on Capitol Hill for orientation Tuesday for a kind of orientation on how to navigate Washington, D.C.

They will be sworn in on Jan. 3, but they were already in classes - a sort of school for organizing themselves, hiring staff, learning the rules and even finding a place to live.

The freshman class includes three new Democrats from the Chicago area: Lauren Underwood, of the 14th District, Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia, of the 4th District, and Sean Casten, of the 6th District.

They were among more than 90 new members invited for a class photo in front of the Capitol Wednesday, with a few races across the country still undecided.

"Oh my goodness... this has been the honor of a lifetime," Underwood said. "I walked onto the floor of the House this morning for the first time, was not able to join for the tour last night. And when we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, my eyes filled up with tears and it just hit me. We are here to serve the people of the 14th District and I am so honored to be able to do so."

Garcia echoed that sentiment, saying that "for a 9-year-old immigrant boy from Durango, Mexico, this is the greatest honor bestowed upon me by people in my community."

"I am here, optimistic that we can act on at least addressing the issue of the DACA, young people who want to become legalized, who want a path to citizenship," he continued, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy under former President Barack Obama.

"They're Americans and they should be recognized as such. I'm also excited about increasing the minimum wage, about pushing forward a system of public health where everyone gets covered," Garcia added. 

The orientation is all paid for by taxpayers, including food and housing, with the cost depending on how many new members there are. In 2012, it was $560,000, and in 2014 it was $370,000.

In addition to learning the rules, orientation served as a time for new members to eye which committees they'd like to serve on.

Casten said he wants to be on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying, "My entire career is in energy and environmental and deploying capital for it and it’s not lost on me that it’s a committee that freshmen don’t normally get on, but it’s been useful to talk to people if that’s where you want to end up."

Another big question looming is whether Illinois' newest Democratic representatives will support Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House.

Already in the national spotlight, Underwood said she wasn't ready to say if she would back Pelosi.

“It’s a important decision, but its very fluid, a fluid environment," she said. "I’m really looking forward to getting the information that we need to support for a leadership team that will allow us to do the work that we need to do."

The new members will return again after Thanksgiving, at which point they will hold the all-important lottery to choose where their offices will be located.

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