Post-election orientation programs offer newly elected senators an opportunity to familiarize themselves with Senate procedures and traditions. Prior to 1976, new members looked to the other senator from their states, or to party officials and Senate officers, for advice on how to survive in this unfamiliar environment. Arizona senator Barry Goldwater recalled how deeply he valued this assistance. “Early in January 1953, a very frightened and somewhat timid desert rat landed in Washington, feeling as out of place as anyone possibly could,” he recalled. “I had not been in my hotel room 15 minutes when the phone rang and the voice at the other end said, ‘This is Mark Trice.’ I wondered then who that could be. He immediately told me that he was Secretary of the Senate and his interest that morning was in helping me to get started. He came to me like a life ring comes to a drowning man.”
The 1976 election produced 17 new members—the largest infusion in 18 years. The next two elections generated even larger classes, with 20 in 1978 and 18 in 1980. These three elections, along with the 1980 change in party control for the first time in 26 years, encouraged Senate officials to develop well-organized and responsive orientation programs to welcome new senators. Typically, these programs last for several days in November and coincide with party leadership elections. Presenters range from the party floor leaders and senators of the most recent freshman class to Senate officers, parliamentarians, security experts, curators, and historians. Sessions span a host of practical topics from “parliamentary procedure” and “setting up a new office,” to “life in the Senate.” In addition to this bipartisan Senate-wide program, each of the two political parties organizes briefings and retreats to orient their senators.
Learn more about orientation from excerpts of oral history interviews with former Senate parliamentarian Floyd Riddick, former Senate historian Richard Baker, and Senate staff member Richard Arenberg.