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One freshman lawmaker sworn in earlier

Rep. Albio Sires has been on an emotional roller coaster, wandering the aisles of Home Depot and the halls of Congress the past few days.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rep. Albio Sires has been on an emotional roller coaster, wandering the aisles of Home Depot and the halls of Congress the past few days.

The New Jersey Democrat has put furnishing his new one-bedroom condo on Capitol Hill on the back burner - the reason for his Home Depot trip - to concentrate on matters at hand Tuesday during the lame-duck session.

Sires was among more than 50 incoming House freshmen attending orientation sessions. He won both the special and general election to fill Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez's House seat and was sworn in Monday night.

Sires remained overwhelmed by the tradition and grandeur of Capitol Hill, and by the sheer size of the place. He spent a few frantic minutes the other day trying to remember where he parked his car in the Rayburn Building garage.

"You make one wrong turn - oh my God!" Sires exclaimed.

Sires, a former state assemblyman and mayor, brings his trademark blunt speaking style to Congress and said he will support Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer for majority leader. When asked why, Sires responded, "We hit it off right away."

He's equally blunt when asked if he's seen anyone famous while wandering Capitol Hill the past two days.

"No, I'm not a star gazer," he said.

Lowest ranking senator
On the Senate side, Democrat Jon Tester of Montana described his first meeting Tuesday with incumbent Democrats as "seeing people you've seen on television only and trying to figure out some of the folks who were there."

Tester said he found out he is ranked 100th out of the 100 senators based on prior government experience and state population - a ranking that puts him last in the assigning of office space.

"I'm below the mayor of Chattanooga," he said, referring to Republican Sen.-elect Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Tester is among the freshman Senate class of eight Democrats, one Republican and Democratic-leaning independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont. Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri did not attend this week's orientation because of a long-planned vacation she had promised her family, win or lose, said spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh. McCaskill has already spoken with soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on her committee preferences, Marsh said.

Sires will have a leg up on seniority when the other lawmakers are sworn into office in January. He drifted back and forth from orientation sessions to House business Tuesday and met with several other Hispanic congressmen. Sires is one of a handful of Cuban-born lawmakers - he came to the United States when he was 11.

The 140 or so family and friends who took a bus Monday from New Jersey to attend his swearing-in Monday night have gone home, and Sires has already cast several votes. His first vote in Congress supported amending the National Trails System Act.