WASHINGTON — Rep.-elect Jaime Herrera is no stranger to Capitol Hill, having spent three years as a senior legislative aide to another congresswoman.
She knows she doesn't want an office on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building, which is too isolated. She knows to avoid the food in the Longworth Cafeteria, which is generally too industrial. She knows where the bathrooms are as well as the committee meeting rooms.
But the Washington state Republican is about to experience Congress in a different way — as a member.
"Knowing where the bathrooms are doesn't mean I will be effective," Herrera said during a break Thursday in the six-day orientation for new members. "Here I am, a 32-year-old from southwest Washington, and this is amazing. But it comes with heavy responsibilities."
Herrera is one of more than nearly 100 new House members, the majority of them Republicans. She's a fiscal conservative who wants to rein in government and government spending, scrap the health care overhaul Congress approved last year, and believes tax cuts are the way to stimulate the economy. Though she ran with tea party support, she's not an ideologue.
One of the first persons she met during the orientation was current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was vilified by Republicans during the campaign.
"I don't agree with her on policy directives or the direction of the country, but I respect what she has accomplished and what she is," Herrera said of her conversation with Pelosi during a reception for new members hosted by the speaker.
Pelosi pointed out that Herrera is part of a rather small and unique group of House members, the congresswoman-elect said; only 300 women have served in the House.
Herrera said she had also received a congratulatory phone call from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and the senator wants to meet with her to discuss regional issues on which they may be able to cooperate.
Republican leaders including Speaker-to-be John Boehner have given no sign they will try to co-opt the new GOP members and muzzle them so they become loyal insiders, Herrera said.
"He talked about cracking open the process, and I believed him," she said.
Even so, some in the Republican caucus remain set in their ways, Herrera said.
"Some of the old bulls wrangling over committee assignments makes me nervous," she said. "I have a feeling we will argue among ourselves, but I think we will do what the American people want us to. We are on a short leash. People sent us back here to do a job."
Republicans have yet to make their committee assignments, but Herrera has expressed interest in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care, one of her top priorities.
"I am trying to find a committee that relates to the 3rd (Congressional) District, but committees don't define who you are," she said.
On Friday, the new members will pick their offices based on a lottery, and then Herrera said she needs to start assembling a staff.