Monday, Jan. 5: After a wonderful ceremonial swearing-in yesterday at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church, where my family and I have worshipped since 1980, it’s time to board a flight to Washington to begin the work of the 114th Congress.
Before heading to the airport, I stop by WTOC to make an appearance on their "Mid-Morning Live" program and visit my good friend and one of my political mentors, Sonny Dixon. While most people know Sonny as an award-winning broadcaster, we in West Chatham County also remember him for the fine job he did representing us in the Georgia Legislature. As fate would have it, on the flight to Washington I sit next to Congressman Jack Kingston, one of the classist people I have ever met, who has been a tremendous help to me during this transition.
As I arrive at my office early afternoon, I am greeted by staff members and furniture but virtually no personal effects. Fortunately, there is no time to dwell on the pending task of setting up an office as the meetings start immediately. My first meeting is with the legislative team from Home Depot, a great Georgia company. My next meeting is with my fellow freshman Republican House members before heading to the Capitol for a Republican conference meeting to debate and adopt amendments to our conference rules for the upcoming session. In the Georgia state legislature, we refer to meetings of Republican members as a caucus meeting whereas in Washington it is referred to as a conference.
Tuesday, Jan. 6: Without question, today is one of the most special days of my life and it is made even more special by the presence of friends and family members who have made the trip to be here. We wake up to a blanket of snow on the ground this morning as the Washington area is experiencing yet another harsh winter storm. Needless to say, the snow and bitter cold are tough on this South Georgia boy but it doesn’t deter the excitement of finally being sworn into Congress.
After an early morning radio interview with Savannah radio host extraordinare Bill Edwards, I head over to the office. Most of the folks who have traveled from the district to be with us today are treated to a tour of the White House this morning before the ceremony starts at the Capitol at noon. There is limited seating in the House Chambers where we will be sworn in, so we host a viewing party in our office. We also are hosting viewing parties back home in Savannah and Brunswick.
After we go into session at noon, our first order of business is the election of a Speaker to serve for this session. Although there is some late-minute maneuvering by a few members, the Republican nominee, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), was actually chosen during a conference vote back in November of last year when he was nominated by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and ran unopposed.
After Speaker Boehner is re-elected, he is escorted to the podium where, as is customary, he is sworn in by the longest serving member, dean of the House Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who was first elected in 1965. After he is sworn in, the Speaker then swears in the members of the House in unison and the 114th Congress is officially under way. Since the inception of our nation, there have been fewer than 11,000 people who have served in Congress. To be a member of this body is truly one of the greatest honors of my life.
After having been sworn in, we get right to work by adopting the rules of the House that will apply to our body for the next two years. Later in the afternoon we pass HR 22, the Hire More Heroes Act of 2015. This bill will provide small businesses relief from provisions of the Affordable Care Act employer mandate when they hire returning veterans and wounded warriors. I am happy to vote for this fine piece of legislation that passes easily.
Wednesday, Jan. 7: We start the day at 8 a.m. with a meeting with the majority whip to review procedures while we are on the floor and in session. Afterwards we have another Republican conference meeting where we review the events of yesterday and discuss plans for the remaining week. Later in the afternoon, after a series of staff meetings back at the office, I head back to the floor for more votes.
Navigating the Capitol with its numerous tunnels, nooks and crannies is an adventure, to say the least. At this point, I am convinced that I have walked further in the wrong direction than I have in the right direction.
We vote on five bills today including HR 26, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2015 (TRIA). Created in 2002, this program established a system of shared public and private compensation for insurance losses stemming from terrorist attacks. HR 26 makes reforms to update the program and extends the program until the end of 2019.
Thursday, Jan. 8: I am very fortunate to have been appointed to three great committees and have the opportunity today to meet with each of the chairman and staff members. This morning, along with my chief of staff Chris Crawford and legislative director Chase Cannon, I meet with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as Homeland Security. Later in the afternoon we have the opportunity to meet with the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
While we have only one bill on the calendar today, it draws a lot of attention particularly from the White House. HR 30, the Save American Workers Act of 2015, amends the Internal Revenue Code to change the definition of full-time employees. Currently the IRC defines a full-time employee as one who works an average 30 hours a week. HR 30 changes this definition to an average of 40 hours a week and 174 hours per month. This change will have a significant impact on provisions of Obamacare and therefore has drawn the ire of the White House. Nevertheless, it passes easily.
Friday, Jan. 9: Although I am told we normally have conference meetings once a week, this morning we have our third meeting of the week. The focus of this meeting is to discuss next week’s agenda, particularly the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill and amendments that will be added to defund President Obama’s unconstitutional immigration power grabs.
Early in the afternoon we go into session and take up HR 3, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act that authorizes TransCanada to construct, connect, operate and maintain the pipeline and cross-border facilities. I was proud to vote in favor of this legislation that will create jobs, stimulate the economy and help make our nation energy-independent. Despite repeated veto threats from the White House (or, perhaps because of these threats), the bill passes easily.