New Illinois House members navigating Washington

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with five newly elected members of the Illinois congressional delegation–all Democrats– in his Capitol Senate leadership office on Thursday morning. From left, Rep.-elect Bill Foster; Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth; Rep.-elect Brad Schneider; Rep.-elect Cheri Bustos and Rep.-elect William Enyart. Not at the session: GOP Rep.-elect Rodney Davis.

(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON — The incoming House members — six from Illinois — are here for orientation sessions, looking for places to live and sizing up new colleagues they will be working with after being sworn in on Jan. 3

“After 18 months of campaigning, I just want to get to work,” Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) told me.

It’s Thursday morning, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) just hosted a breakfast for five of the new members in an office that is part of his Capitol suite. None of them plans to sleep in his or her office — which some members do to save time and money.

Afterward, Durbin brought up what I had been thinking when I was interviewing Duckworth — that I met her for the first time in this very suite just weeks after she had been wounded in Iraq, and now she was returning as a newly elected member of Congress.

“Let me just remind you Lynn Sweet, that it was in January of 2005 … when you and I met Tammy Duckworth for the first time in that office,” he said as he pointed toward the room where the breakfast was held.

In 2005 — as he has every year since — Durbin invites two wounded soldiers from Illinois recovering in Washington to be his guests for the State of the Union address. I was one of the reporters who showed up to interview the soldiers — and met Duckworth just weeks after she lost both legs and shattered an arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq.

Duckworth won her seat in her second House run — defeating Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) — and Durbin, the man who “discovered” her, said, “I can’t tell you what it means to me that she finally made it.”

Rep.-elect Bill Foster (D-Ill.) isn’t like the other freshmen — because he is not one — beating Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) in a comeback bid. When he was in the House previously, he was a member of the House Financial Services and Government Oversight committees, and he is considering rejoining those panels.

Foster and Rep.-elect Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) both told me they plan to caucus with other centrist Democrats.

Rep.-elect Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) is no stranger to Congress; her father, Gene Callahan, was a longtime top adviser to former Illinois senators Paul Simon and Alan Dixon.

Rep.-elect William Enyart (D-Ill.) parachuted into the race last June, when he was tapped as a replacement candidate, quitting his post as Commander of the Illinois National Guard.

They all said they were braced to deal with fiscal cliff issues. Said Schneider, “Whatever happens in the current lame duck session, there will be issues that we will have to address when we get here in January.”

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