WASHINGTON (AP) - Elected a little more than a week ago, incoming Sen. Mike Rounds is in the middle of a whirlwind orientation: He’s meeting dozens of new colleagues, finding his way around the labyrinth hallways of the U.S. Capitol, moving quickly to build out a Senate staff.
Not that it’s anything he didn’t expect it.
“It’s a lot of information - a lot of information,” Rounds said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But there are no surprises at this point. Just a lot of people who have been very interested in helping.”
Rounds and other newly elected Senate colleagues arrived this week for new member orientation. Coming just a week after Election Day, it is a rapid-fire mix of matters big and small, from photo ops to tutorials about rules for senators and Senate staff to tours of Senate committee rooms and offices to meeting new colleagues. There are personal matters, too - Rounds is trying to figure out where he and his wife, Jean, will live in Washington.
The week’s activities also included one of Rounds’ first substantive acts as a Senator-elect. He joined Republican colleagues in a closed meeting on Thursday, unanimously electing Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell as the next Senate majority leader and also voting for his South Dakota colleague, Sen. John Thune, who was re-elected to the no. 3 role in Senate Republican leadership.
After an at-times uncomfortable Senate campaign, Rounds ultimately easily won a four-way Senate race to succeed outgoing Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Now, Rounds told the AP, he’s looking to dig in to the issues like energy policy, the budget and providing more robust congressional oversight.
“There has been a sense that Washington really does have to change and we’re getting that discussion both on the Republican side and with a number of Democrats,” Rounds said. “So I think there’s a breath of fresh air here in the Capitol halls.”
Rounds’ new colleagues expect him to settle in quickly.
North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, who served as that state’s governor at the same time Rounds was leading South Dakota, said he’d enjoyed catching up with Rounds and that he seemed to barely need any help.
“He already knows a lot of the senators already. He is fitting well,” Hoeven said.
Thune said Rounds was handling “all the hoops” that new senators must jump through. He said he’d given Rounds some suggestions on where to live in the city and would continue to help him with the process. He joked about Rounds’ arrival making him the senior senator in South Dakota.
“I never wanted to be the senior anything,” he said with a laugh.
For the next few weeks, Rounds will be shuttling back and forth to Washington as he adds staff for constituent services in the state and a new office in Washington. He said he will lean on his experience as governor as he goes through the process.
“It’s very similar to the transition team with a governor, except that we weren’t switching locations from the middle of the country to Washington,” he said. “So we’re doing things a bit remotely.”
Rounds said the process was frantic, but ultimately fulfilling.
“The biggest challenge is simply keeping track of all the moving parts,” he said. Lots of things that have to be done and done quickly, but we’ll make it work.”
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