Freshman Congress members acclimating to D.C. political life

Joe Kennedy III
Rep.-elect Joe Kennedy, D-Mass. arrives to register for orientation at a hotel as newly elected members of Congress arrived on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

(CBS News) There's a sense of newness in Washington, D.C., because it's orientation week for the newest members of Congress.

The newly-elected members will gather on the steps of the Capitol on Friday for their freshmen class photo. They won't be sworn in until January 2013, but the 80 new members of the House of Representatives will be in Washington to receive a crash course on what is essentially "Congress 101."

The halls of the U.S. Capitol feel a bit like high school this week. Returning congressmen strut with the confidence of seniors, while newly elected members seem like eager freshmen.

There are nearly 80 new members in the House, including Indiana's Republican Susan Brooks. Brooks said, "It has been a lot of rules, a lot of discussion about, you know, the do's and the dont's."

Hawaii's Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, was asked by CBS News' Chip Reid, "A lot of people are under the impression that many people in Congress are carried around in limousines when they arrive, walk cross a red carpet. What was your introduction like?"

"My train was an hour and half late," Gabbard said. "I walked out of Union Station to see a line of over 100 people waiting for taxis."

So she decided to walk more than a mile to her hotel, dragging her luggage. Gabbard said, "A kind gentleman stopped me and said, 'Excuse me, young lady, are you lost?' I said, 'Yes, please help!'"

Gabbard will be the first Hindu in a Congress setting records for diversity -- nearly 100 women and 33 Hispanics.

For all the new members, it's an entirely new world.

Illinois congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth has some unique challenges. A combat pilot in Iraq, Duckworth lost both legs when a rocket-propelled grenade hit her helicopter.

She said, "We've all been campaigning. We all have ideas. Our district has sent us -- where are the bathrooms?"

"I'm learning which building, where's the wheelchair entrance?" she said. "All buildings have a wheelchair entrance, but it's not all in the same place, so you have to seek out, sometimes I have to go around the block to find it."

Even Joe Kennedy, III, of Mass., whose father and grandfather were congressmen and whose great uncle was president, seems a bit overwhelmed. "It's a privilege," he said. "And you realize that the hard part is still what lies ahead."

Kennedy couldn't be more right. Now they're just trying to find the bathroom, but soon they'll be trying to save the nation from fiscal calamity. Something else we should point out -- Kennedy is going to be a minority in the new Congress. For the first time in the House, white men will be the minority in the Democratic Caucus.