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Senate’s First Day Relatively Low-Key

Thirteen new Senators were sworn into office on Wednesday as their families, Supreme Court justices and former Senators looked on. 

With much of the attention focused on the transfer of power from Democrats to Republicans in the House, the 112th Congress opening day festivities in the Senate were relatively muted by comparison. Democrats hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber after losing six seats in the 2010 elections. 

The newest Members — 12 Republicans and one Democrat — took the oath alongside returning Senators, several of whom went through blistering re-election campaigns. 

Among them was Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whose write-in victory over Republican Joe Miller was the last race of the cycle to be certified. She sat near the back of the chamber with her father, former Sen. and former Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, whom she succeeded in the Senate. 

As she walked to the front of the chamber,the Senator held her father’s hand.  

Frank Murkowski wasn’t the only father in the chamber to watch his offspring take the oath on Wednesday. 

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) stood on the floor to watch as his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), was sworn in. 

In addition to Murkowski, several other former Senators attended Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony. Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), who was defeated in 2008, stood behind Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) as he was sworn in, standing next to Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who defeated Dole. Recently retired Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), were on hand to accompany their successors as they took the oath of office. Brownback was elected Kansas governor last year.

Former Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) stood behind Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as he was administered the oath. Traditionally, current Senators accompany their home-state colleague when the oath of office is given. But Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) was not present to stand with Reid for the ceremony. Jennifer Cooper, a spokeswoman for Ensign, explained that her boss chose to stay in Nevada to meet with constituents since no votes were scheduled on Wednesday.  

“Senator Reid was aware of this and called Senator Ensign to ask if it was okay for former Senator Laxalt to escort him to the swearing in,” Copper said in an e-mail. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was also absent from the ceremony because of knee surgery. In her stead, Reid stood behind Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as she took the oath. 

Two Supreme Court justices were seated in the gallery during the swearing-in. Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas sat near former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

Alito was present to swear in Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), according to Senate aides. 

After taking the oath on the floor, several Senators walked down the ornate hall on the second floor of the Capitol to the Old Senate Chamber, where Vice President Joseph Biden administered the ceremonial oath of office for photo purposes. This was the first time that Biden, who served seven terms in the Senate, administered the oath to Senators as vice president. He seemed to revel in the duty, hamming it up with Senators’ families and playing with young children who were present for the photos. 

Other Senators remained in the chamber to give tributes to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who became the longest-serving woman in Senate history by taking the oath for her fifth term. 

In his remarks on the floor, Reid reminded listeners of the successes of the 111th Congress and indicated there is more waiting for the 112th. 

“Many challenges and opportunities still lie ahead for this new Congress that starts today,” he said. “We have to do even more to help middle-class families, to create jobs, to hasten our energy independence, to improve our children’s education and to fix our broken immigration system.” 

McConnell also spoke of the challenges ahead, but he expressed confidence that bipartisan compromise could be reached on the important issues. 

“We will press the majority to do the things the American people clearly want us to do, and we will insist in every possible way that the voices of our constituents are heard, realizing at the same time that the best solutions are forged through consensus, not confrontation,” he said. “Fortunately, the Senate was designed as a place where consensus could and would be reached.” 

While the Senate did not have any votes on Wednesday, the chamber will remain in session in order to buy Democrats time to debate a series of rules changes dealing with the filibuster and secret holds, among other things.  

Reid plans to use a procedural maneuver that will allow him to hold open the first legislative day of the session until the Senate returns from a two-week recess on Jan. 24.

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