Freshman representatives find their place on Capitol Hill amid government shutdown

New members of Congress navigate shutdown
New members of Congress navigate shutdown 04:36

Members of the 116th Congress inherited the shutdown as soon as they were sworn in. As Congress struggles to find a way out of the longest partial government shutdown in history, CBS News' Nancy Cordes followed three new lawmakers trying to find their place on Capitol Hill.  

Part of the most diverse Congress ever, the bipartisan group of freshman representatives spoke about helping constituents impacted by the shutdown and standing up to leaders of their own parties, even as they figure out how to legislate on the fly.

Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin was still unpacking boxes when she got a surprise – her first phone call from a constituent asking for help.

"It was a woman from Brighton, Michigan in my district saying, 'I work for the census. I don't know if I'm furloughed or not. I don't know if I'll be repaid or not. Can you help me figure this out?'"

Slotkin did three tours in Iraq as a CIA analyst and now joins the more than 100 new House members getting a crash course on the powers and limits of legislating.

As soon as Houston Republican Dan Crenshaw began drawing a congressman's paycheck, he announced he would forego it to show solidarity with furloughed workers.

"The worst thing in the world is to have that insecurity and to have that uncertainty," Crenshaw said.

We followed Slotkin, Crenshaw, and New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland for the past month as they prepared for their new roles in divided government.

For Haaland, that meant packing up half her home in Albuquerque and saying goodbye to her 24-year-old daughter, who lives just down the street.

 "I made her share her location with me on her phone so I can like always see where she is," her daughter, Somah Haaland, said.

They are members of a younger, more diverse new class that isn't afraid to make waves.

 "When someone comes, we want to make sure that they get a different experience than they got with our predecessor," Slotkin said.

Slotkin's first official act was withholding her vote for the new speaker, fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

"You have to hear what people in your district are saying and I got a very loud and clear signal from people across the aisle that they wanted new leadership," Slotkin explained.

As a representative-elect, Crenshaw – a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye in Afghanistan – wrote an op-ed urging the White House to keep troops in Syria.

"I have a background that makes me an expert voice on this particular issue," Crenshaw said.

One of the most memorable images from their swearing-in was of Haaland and Sharice Davids of Kansas embracing on the House floor. They are the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress.

"And I didn't have a tissue, if you notice. I had to use her scarf," Haaland said.

They know that to get anything done, they'll need to build relationships. Crenshaw has a head start thanks to a viral bit on "Saturday Night Live." After SNL's Pete Davidson came under harsh criticism for joking about the eye patch Crenshaw wears, the comedian apologized to the veteran and even invited him on the show where he poked fun at Davidson in return.

They've all arrived with big goals but there's one issue hanging over everything: the partial government shutdown.

"Right now, we need to be talking about opening the government," Haaland said. "There are real people hurting right now in our country."

Rep. Haaland said Native American communities in particular have been hard-hit by this shutdown because federal programs having to do with medical care and law enforcement have been halted on reservations. She's trying to figure out ways to alleviate the loss of basic services to those communities, but what all of these lawmakers are finding is that there isn't much Congress can do other than fund these agencies so they can be reopened.