Newhouse goes to work as Washington state’s newest congressman

Wearing a "Member-elect" name tag, Republican Dan Newhouse of Washington state stood outside the Capitol Hill Hotel in Washington, D.C., as members of the media waited to catch a glimpse of other newly-elected members of Congress Nov. 12, 2014.
Wearing a "Member-elect" name tag, Republican Dan Newhouse of Washington state stood outside the Capitol Hill Hotel in Washington, D.C., as members of the media waited to catch a glimpse of other newly-elected members of Congress Nov. 12, 2014. McClatchy

Joining 57 other freshmen in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse took the oath of office on Tuesday, becoming Washington state’s newest congressman and already showing signs of mastering the lingo of his new surroundings.

“My wife and I were lucky enough to find a small apartment very close, within a five-minute walk of the office,” Newhouse said in an interview. “It’s an English garden apartment, which is just a fancy D.C. term for basement.”

In his first official act, Newhouse cast a vote to help re-elect House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to another term.

And later this week, Newhouse said, he’ll be ready to vote for the controversial Keystone oil pipeline, touted by GOP leaders as a jobs bill but headed for a veto by President Barack Obama.

“Today it all becomes real,” said Newhouse, 59, of Sunnyside, Wash., who replaced the retiring Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, a 20-year veteran.

Newhouse’s arrival on Capitol Hill marked just one of many changes for the Washington state delegation in the new Congress, which formally convened at noon on Tuesday.

Among them:

– Sen. Patty Murray took over as the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, replacing Tom Harkin of Iowa, who called it quits after 40 years in Congress.

– Sen. Maria Cantwell became the No. 1 Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, taking over for Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who lost her re-election bid last month.

– And Republican Rep. Dave Reichert got the gavel of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, tapped for the post by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the new chairman of the full committee.

Newhouse joined a freshman class that includes 43 Republicans, giving the GOP its strongest House majority – a total of 246 members – since the Great Depression.

Republicans quickly rallied behind Boehner, who won another term as speaker after defeating Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California by a vote of 216 to 164, with only 408 of the 435 members voting and 13 others dividing the remaining votes.

GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state formally nominated Boehner, calling him “a dear friend and colleague” and a leader who wants to make the federal government more accountable.

“He calls himself a regular guy with a big job, and that job, he says, is to listen,” McMorris Rodgers said. “Because if we listen to the people, listen to one another, there’s no telling what we can accomplish together for the future of this great country.”

Boehner welcomed the newcomers, calling it “ a truly historic day.” And he said the Republican majority would focus on the economy, saying too many Americans are unemployed while too many others are struggling with stagnant wages and higher costs.

“This is our vital task,” Boehner said.

Newhouse said Boehner had shown impressive leadership in keeping the Republican House caucus united.

“I just barely met the man in the last few days and listened to him several times,” Newhouse said. “He speaks in a very down-to-earth kind of way. My understanding is he’s one of the most conservative speakers that we’ve had in a long time.”

Newhouse, a former state legislator who also served as director of the Washington state Department of Agriculture, got his first choice of committees, winning a seat on the House Agriculture Committee.

He’ll also serve on the House Natural Resources Committee, which Hastings headed, and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

And Newhouse said he’s already decided on three bills to cosponsor, all dealing with issues that he focused on during his election campaign last year: One would repeal the health-care law passed by Congress in 2010, while the others would require a balanced federal budget and overhaul the tax code.

He said he still didn’t know exactly where he’ll rank in seniority.

“Pretty close to the bottom, I’m guessing,” he said.

So far, Newhouse said, eight of the 18 staffers that he expects to hire are on board, including his chief of staff and communications director.

And he said he’s figuring out exactly where to open his three district offices. He already has one in Yakima. He’s looking for space in the Tri-Cities area. And he said another office may open in Moses Lake, or somewhere further north.

“It’s an exciting day,” Newhouse said. “It feels great. It’s a huge honor – that’s not lost on me at all – and the magnitude of what I’m embarking on here, and the responsibility.”