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Becoming a Senator

Prior to 1976 new members looked to the other senator from their state or to party officials for advice on how to survive in this unfamiliar environment. The 1976 election produced 17 new senators—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 encouraged Senate officials to develop well-organized and responsive welcoming programs. Typically these programs last several days in November or December and coincide with party leadership elections. Presenters range from the party floor leaders to veterans of the most recent freshman class. 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.

Read Senator Robert Byrd's remarks to new senators at the 1996 orientation.

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.