WASHINGTON - Freshman Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said a prayer before she and her husband headed cross-country in her 1998 Ford Explorer, which is still running with 190,000 miles on it.
“We prayed that it would work, and it did,” she said. “Hopefully, it hangs in there.”
After a four-day trip, Herrera Beutler took the oath of office Wednesday for the 112th Congress, becoming the newest and youngest member of the Washington state congressional delegation.
Herrera Beutler, 32, joined Republicans in a largely ceremonial day as they formally took control of the House of Representatives, with promises to cut spending and scrap the health care law passed by Congress last year.
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She’s one of 96 House newcomers, including 87 Republicans and nine Democrats. Her budding career got an immediate boost when The Washington Post named her one of 10 freshmen “who are likely to be stars.”
The new session of Congress began with many members of the Washington state delegation in high-profile roles.
Republican Rep. Doc Hastings is the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks is the new ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Democratic Rep. Adam Smith is the new ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Patty Murray retains her position as Democratic conference secretary, the No. 4 post in the Senate’s Democratic leadership, and is the new chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which will help recruit and fund Democratic candidates for the Senate in 2012. And Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers won re-election as vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the No. 5 position in the GOP House leadership.
On Wednesday, McMorris Rodgers and fellow Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert welcomed Herrera Beutler by presenting her with a ceremonial painting to mark her first day in office. McMorris Rodgers said the painting of a newly hatched chick has served as a traditional welcome for the newest member of the state’s delegation since 1972.
Herrera Beutler, who represents Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, said she and her husband have rented an apartment. And she has hired 10 staff members so far as she gets settled in at her new office in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill.
“I’m sure it’ll take us a while, but we can answer the phones, and I think we’ve got our e-mail up and running, so we can communicate with folks back home,” she said. “It’s all first-day, opening stuff. I’m sure it’ll get more exciting pretty quick.”
Herrera Beutler said she was eager to cast two of her first votes: to cut office budgets by 5 percent and to repeal the health care law.
“I’ve been committed to repealing and replacing the health care bill,” she said. “The status quo for health care, whether it was under the Democrats or Republicans, wasn’t acceptable, in my mind.”
Unlike most freshmen, Herrera Beutler comes to Capitol Hill with working experience in Washington.
She was a college intern in the George W. Bush White House. From 2005 to 2007, she served as a senior legislative aide to McMorris Rodgers, working on issues involving health care, labor, education, veterans and women. And after three years in the Washington state Legislature, she was elected to Congress in November, replacing Democratic Rep. Brian Baird to represent the Southwest Washington district, which stretches from Vancouver to Olympia.