Newly elected members of Congress have been swarming Capitol Hill in recent days to learn the basics of their new jobs, things as elementary as discovering where the House and Senate floors are and how a bill becomes a law.
They’re in town for an intense week of long classroom-style lectures and the orientation is often likened to the first day of college or, at times, drinking from a fire hose. And lost members frantically scour the halls of Congress looking for the right door – or a way out.
For instance, a confused, yet excited, Rep-elect Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, roamed the Cannon House Office Building where he was looking for an exit until being helped out of the building and pointed in the direction of the Capitol Hill Club, a townhouse adjacent to Capitol Hill for Republican members to conduct campaign business or hold meetings.
Moments later, Democratic Rep. Alma Adams, who was elected in November but was sworn-in last week to empty seat of her North Carolina district, rushed into an elevator. When asked if she was “that” Alma Adams – who holds the distinction of becoming the 100th woman to serve in this Congress -- the flustered and nearly breathless congresswoman quickly responded, “Yes. I don’t want to miss my vote.” The House was voting on the Keystone XL pipeline.
When the elevators doors opened she and her panicked staffer, who was wearing 4 inch stilettos – another rookie move that will likely end soon after realizing the miles that can be walked on any given day along the unforgiving marble floors – rushed out, leaving little time to tell them that votes are often held open for much longer than the allotted time to allow members time to make it to the Capitol in time to vote.
All this took place on the way to meet Rep-elect Mike Bost, R-Illinois, a newly elected veteran lawmaker and Marine veteran who spent 20 years in the Illinois state House. He won in a district that President Barack Obama won in 2008 easily and narrowly in 2012; he is the first Republican to represent his southern Illinois district since 1942.
Bost, who said he intends to sleep in his office while in Washington, took NBC News on a tour of the Capitol – kind of. His press aide led the way, keeping him from getting lost at many turns. And he talked about the first time he walked on the House floor Thursday evening, his relationship with President Obama when they served in the Illinois legislature together, and if he thinks the Republicans should force a government shutdown over potential presidential action on immigration.
Bost had been in Washington for three days when we met Friday afternoon. He noted the difficult job of the Republican Caucus Chair, whose name he couldn’t remember. (It is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington.) He had already voted for Rep. John Boehner to once again be Speaker of the House, had already met with lobbyists for U.S. Steel and accountant associations, and interviewed candidates for the new staff he must assemble. He said he couldn’t believe a lawyer was applying for a job and wasn’t quite convinced that he should have at least one lawyer on staff.
The small business owner and long-time state legislator is known for his outsized personality. He became a bit of a political celebrity when he lost his temper on the floor of the Illinois legislature, throwing a pile of papers into the air and punching them as they descended. National news wrote about the local episode.
Of the incident, he fully admits to it. “I threw a fit on the House floor. You’re doggone right I did,” he said, saying he was angry at how legislators pushed a bill through and how Governor Pat Quinn was running Illinois. And when his opponent, Rep. Bill Enyart, used the scene in a political ad, he said it was “rough” on his family, but he retorted by using the scene in his own ad, saying he was angry and “you should be too” about how President Obama is running the country.
Speaking of President Obama, his former colleague in the Illinois state legislature, Bost called him a “fluke” and that “nobody ever thought he was going to rise.”
He said then-state Senator Obama had already decided to run for U.S. Senate and was speaking to a group of reporters when Bost walked by. Obama turned to Bost and said, “There you have it, one of the rich Republicans.”
Bost was admittedly bothered and said he simply responded, “You know what, Senator, that just proves you don’t know me at all.”
That was the last conversation he’s had with the current President.
But Bost admitted that Obama was “focused,” and acknowledged, “It worked out for him.”
For the next two years Bost will once again be serving in the same city as Obama. And while the president is not on his list of favorite politicians, he doesn’t think he should be impeached. Bost doesn’t have the ability to vote until he is sworn-in in January, but he also disagrees with those in the Republican Party who are willing to shut down the government if President Obama acts on immigration unilaterally.
He said the last government shutdown in 2013 was “very damaging” to the party and the country.
“I think the people the people have seen that. It’s an option but I don’t think it’s one I’d recommend to the caucus,” he said.
That puts Bost in line with the Republican leadership who is also not eager to see a government shutdown, and in opposition to a cohort of conservative Republicans who are willing to take on their leadership and advocate extreme tactics in response to a President in which they disagree.
Those elements within the party became apparent to Bost right from the start. He said he was surprised at the passionate debates within Republican Party meetings.
They "really raised (their) voices at each other,” he said about a meeting to adopt House rules. Despite the fuss, Bost said he respected how Speaker Boehner allowed those voices to be heard.
The father of three and the grandfather of nine – soon to be ten - became emotional when he realized the weight of his responsibility while walking onto the House floor the first time Thursday. That same somber tone came out again when he pointed to a spot in statuary hall in the U.S. Capital where the House floor used to be where Abraham Lincoln, also of Illinois, once sat.
His political hero is John Alexander Logan, another Illinoisan from the Civil War era who was a Democrat expected to organize with the South. Instead he became a Republican and supported the Union’s military efforts.
“He was willing to break ranks to do what was right,” Bost said of Logan.
Will Bost break ranks and side with Democrats? He said perhaps. The former firefighter says he’s “not anti-union and labor,” noting that his grandfather was the head of the United Mine Workers Union.
He also notes that his district is half full of Democrats and that his title is “representative.”
“If my district does not line up with a position in the Republican Party, sure,” he said about voting with Democrats. He said, however, he won’t switch parties, “but that depends on how radical (Republicans) go.”
Bost’s Illinois pride runs deep, joyfully walking over to the two Illinois statues in the Capitol, one of former President Lincoln and fellow former President Ulysses S. Grant.
“The boys from Illinois,” Bost said, standing between the larger than life statues holding his arms in a gesture of, well, here we are.