If you’re new to the U.S. Senate, what’s the first thing you have to do?
Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who was sworn in just two years ago after a special election, spoke Tuesday afternoon to the incoming members of the Senate, offering his own advice about handling the new responsibility.
It came down to two big points: respond to your many bosses -- your constituents -- and get to know your fellow lawmakers.
“Stay on top of constituent response. Even though (new Senators) are not sworn in many of them are already known ... they will get a river of job applications, people calling them them for help and letters with opinions ... Don’t let them fall into a black hole somewhere.”
Do not take time off to relax, Coons said, no matter how grueling the election.
“Get back to people or you will start 5,000 messages and emails behind the eight ball and you will not get caught up,” Coons said.
Who will be calling? Anyone who shook your hand, donated, met you at a campaign event. They’ll want jobs or tickets to the inauguration or a personal meeting.
“At least in my state where everyone expects a personal response, they deserve a personal response,” Coons said. He later added, “remember who hired you – you’ve got a lot of constituents.”
His second piece of advice: get to know someone on the other side of the aisle, especially after the brutal, reductive campaign season.
“What makes the Senate different is we’re small enough that you can actually take the time to learn each other and get beyond the two-dimensional cardboard characterization of the campaign ... we’ve got enough bomb throwers, we need some consensus builders and listeners,” he said.
“Be human – do something to build a real connection.”
His message meshes with an overall vibe from Delaware's delegation -- the small state's three members (two Senators, just one Congressman) constantly preach conciliation.
Coons noted how after he won a special election in Delaware he had just 10 days to get ready. The new Senate class has until January.