A curtain-raiser: 10 stars to watch in new season of Congress Theater

Every session brings its own cast of characters, plot lines to the Hill

It takes ability, appetite and the occasional lucky break to rise above the din of discord on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers must have finesse, fire in the belly and persistence to distinguish themselves from the pack. Sometimes they warrant attention for actual legislative prowess, sometimes not. Media darlings, partisan bullies and rogue individualists also can clear a path and engage the public — whether the public likes it or not.

Who’s worth watching, then, in 2013? Here are 10 lawmakers of note as the curtain rises on a new season of political theater in Congress:

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican: Cuban-American and a tea party favorite with serious legal chops, Mr. Cruz already has advised the Republican Party to adopt the motto “Opportunity Conservatism.” The former solicitor general in the Lone Star State, Mr. Cruz has written more than 80 briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court and is a champion of small businesses and balanced budgets, boasting endorsements from the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Life Coalition, among many groups. He also named personable Chip Roy, a top aide to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as his chief of staff — prompting praise for his outside-the-Beltway thinking from Redstate.com blogger Erick Erickson, who declared, “Ted Cruz’s first decision is a huge deal.” Born in Canada, Mr. Cruz, 42, is sure to prompt an outcry from critics who fret over his eligibility for an eventual White House run.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican: The 11-term congressman is the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight for immigration and the Justice Department. Mr. Goodlatte, 60, should surface in news coverage when the discussion turns to gun control and immigration reform. He is keen on Internet and high-tech digital issues, plus online piracy. He is considered a “copyright hawk” and has been deemed “Hollywood’s favorite Republican” for his support of the bill to curtail online piracy.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat: Politicians appear to be fond of the idea that “70 is the new 50.” Mr. Hoyer, 73, has been particularly feisty and vocal on multiple issues recently, and even spent New Year’s Eve on MSNBC talking about the “fiscal cliff.” Mr. Hoyer is pro-choice, supports gun control, gay rights and is a prolific fundraiser for the Democratic Party, rising to No. 2 in the House Democratic hierarchy after more than three decades in Congress.

** FILE ** Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. (Associated Press)

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** FILE ** Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. (Associated Press) more >

Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, Massachusetts Democrat: The name alone is enough to draw attention to this 32-year-old lawmaker, son of former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, and grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. He succeeds retiring liberal icon Rep. Barney Frank. While Mr. Kennedy supports debt reduction, job creation, health care reform and gay and women’s rights, he also appears vigilant about national security and is a friend to Israel. “I believe this country was founded on a simple principle: that each of us deserves to be treated fairly, by our government and by each other,” Mr. Kennedy says.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican: Will he take up where his father, retired Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, left off? Perhaps. Outspoken Mr. Paul, a practicing ophthalmologist who turns 50 on Monday, is capable of drawing sharp lines in the sand. He is a barometer of grass-roots ferocity, reminding the press that the tea party is still percolating and libertarian conservatism remains a force. He also has hinted at a presidential run. “His entrance into politics is indicative of his life’s work: a desire to diagnose problems and provide practical solutions,” notes Mr. Paul’s campaign website, which incidentally bears the title “Randpaul2016.com.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican: The new chairwoman of the House Republican Conference made multiple broadcast appearances with GOP fiscal cliff heavyweights, displaying a calm and effective style. Mrs. Rodgers is 43, a mother of two and served nine years as a state representative before arriving in Washington in 2005. Determined to update the Republican Party in practical ways, she is a major advocate of social media, telling the Ripon Society: “Regardless of the issue — health care, energy, tax reform, debt reductions, entitlement reform — [social media] will continue to shape the debate in ways we’ve never seen before.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican: Telegenic, straightforward Mr. Rubio, 41, is already a conservative standard-bearer, his name associated with a White House run even before he took office two years ago. The son of Cuban-American immigrants continues to perform beautifully under media scrutiny and is a key component of Republican efforts to attract the crucial Hispanic vote. Mr. Rubio also boasts an able staff that never misses a chance to get their man’s sound bites across media platforms of every persuasion. Look for talk of a serious policy book from the rising GOP star as he plans a strategic route to 2016.

Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican: Like the aforementioned Mr. Rubio, he is a universal given on anyone’s “watch list.” The former vice presidential candidate simply isn’t done yet. Mr. Ryan, 42, was the proverbial man-with-the-plan before he stepped into the 2012 campaign limelight, providing comprehensive guides for fiscal responsibility and lower taxes in a year of chaos. Bipartisan immigration reform, however, is also on his agenda. Predictions that Mr. Ryan would retreat to obscurity after Mitt Romney’s defeat have not panned out. He continues to do the credible business of Congress with gusto but not flash, a wise wonk with street smarts and a discerning eye for opportunity.

Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat: Former lieutenant governor of Hawaii, Mr. Schatz was named to succeed the late Daniel K. Inouye by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, and will serve as the senior senator. Mr. Schatz, 40, is a former state representative intent on economic issues, climate change, clean energy and federal recognition of Native Hawaiians. He will face a special election in 2014, and therefore has little time to dilly-dally in the background, rookie or not. And the backstory here: Mr. Schatz served as chairman of the state Democratic Party and orchestrated President Obama’s 2008 campaign in Hawaii. He is a staunch ally of the president, and accompanied the Hawaiian-born Mr. Obama aboard Air Force One during the Christmas holidays. It is insider status, aloha style.

Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican: He is a tea party favorite, and the Senate’s only black member who unapologetically supports the grass-roots movement. Appointed to replace retiring Sen. Jim DeMint, Mr. Scott’s first move as a senator will be to introduce a bill to lower corporate taxes to 23 percent and allow for permanent repatriation of foreign earnings back into the U.S. A fiscal and social conservative, Mr. Scott, 47, is pro-life, supports workers’ rights, a strong defense and believes the president’s health care law should be repealed. The Wall Street Journal predicts that the likeable Mr. Scott will give the “liberal orthodoxy” fits.

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