Thu January 6, 2011

GOP Freshman Grapples With Historic, Mundane

There are 96 new members of the U.S. House of Representatives -- 87 of them Republicans. One of those new GOP members is David Schweikert, who spent Wednesday dealing with matters both historic and mundane.

Schweikert, who is from Arizona's 5th district, which includes Tempe, Scottsdale and a huge swath of desert, defeated a Democratic incumbent.

He sees the federal debt as a looming crisis, but early Wednesday, he was trying to figure out the new cappuccino machine in his office.

"We got foam, now we need some coffee in the milk," he said. "It's a big moment here."

Schweikert explained that he bought the machine with his own money, as a perk for his staff and himself. His 20-something chief of staff handed him a printed copy of the day's schedule. He looked it over. It was jampacked.

There's a 9 a.m. bipartisan prayer service.

"Then [we] get our official pin and ID. Then we have a couple interviews in the Rotunda in the building next-door," he said with a sigh. "Then I have a couple of phone calls to make to well-wishers. Then we go over to the House and it begins."

But first, as staffers still trickled in, there was a live phone interview with a TV station back home. The anchor raised a topic Schweikert is asked about a lot: the health care law. The new congressman's response was right in line with the Republican Party's playbook on the issue.

"The reality is it's a job-killing health care reform bill as it exists today," he said. "So we have to step up and reverse the bad parts of this health care reform."

Schweikert ran for this seat in 2008 and lost. Then he rode the Republican wave to victory last November with help from the Tea Party movement, which promises to keep the pressure on him and others it backed in the election.

Schweikert said he's OK with that.

"If the Tea Party stays consistent on its message of fiscal conservatism, we're going to be best friends," he said. "I've been a debt hawk for 20 years."

On another issue, he said that right now he's a "no" vote on raising the debt ceiling, though he didn't say what cuts need to be made to get spending under control.

"No matter what happens, we're in for tough medicine," he said.

By midmorning Wednesday, after the prayer service and the interviews, after getting his congressional voting card, it was back to the office for a reception for friends, supporters, some family of staffers and at least one lobbyist who dropped by to make introductions.

Still, the basic chores of setting up shop kept coming: things like recording the outgoing message for the office voice mail.

The morning flew by. It was close to noon, the scheduled start time for the first meeting of the new Congress. Schweikert, his wife, Joyce, and his staff navigated the maze of underground tunnels that connect his building to the Capitol itself.

He talked while he walked.

"[I'm] ready to get to work. There's that sense, that antsiness. The ceremonial stuff is great; let's get our teeth into something," he said. "We're executing tradition as we should. It has its place, but then we have the people's work to do."

And with that, Schwiekert walked into the chamber to be sworn in as part of the new GOP majority. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.