Every two years, following the congressional elections, a new class of senators comes to the Capitol to assume the duties of United States senators. They take the oath of office in January, but the business of becoming a senator starts immediately after the election.
From 1789 until the 1970s, a new senator had to rely upon the friendly advice of senior members or Senate officers and staff to learn the traditions and folkways of the Senate. Beginning in the 1970s, however, the Senate instituted a formal orientation program designed to help newly elected members become acquainted with the Capitol, learn the Senate’s rules and procedures, set up an office and hire staff, and participate in leadership elections. For many years, Senator Robert C. Byrd, the Senate’s longest-serving member, spoke to each freshman class, offering his advice and historical perspective.
At times, senators have been appointed or have come to office in unusual ways or during difficult periods of our national history, but every new senator faces similar challenges. For this reason, as former Senate Parliamentarian Floyd Riddick explains, every two years the Senate creates a “mini-school” for its new members.