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Bipartisan Mood as Congress Sworn in

Hugs, greetings across the aisle as contentious issues loom

Rep.-elect Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., waves to the gallery as she arrives on the House floor to take the oath of office on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep.-elect Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., waves to the gallery as she arrives on the House floor to take the oath of office on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

For many, their first day of work in Washington was dreary and puddle-filled, but in the Senate, there were no political parties for a brief moment.

During a full day of rain in the nation’s capital, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. returned to the Senate perhaps for the last time to swear in the 27 re-elected senators and seven newly elected ones.

Tables turned for Republicans, who had 12 freshmen senators at the 2015 swearing in, but this year had just two: Indiana Sen. Todd Young and Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy.

Democrats, who had only Michigan Sen. Gary Peters two years ago, welcomed five new senators: Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Kamala Harris of California, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Maggie Hassan of New Hamphire.

To no one’s surprise, Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy was spotted carrying his camera around.

“Happy New Year!” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as he greeted photographers snapping his picture while walking onto the Senate floor.

Pennsylvania Republican Patrick J. Toomey, who won a tight race for re-election, sat in the chairman’s seat to reconvene the Senate for what was the final pro-forma session of the 114th Congress.

“Where are you going?” Alabama Republican Richard Shelby asked members after that session was adjourned. Toomey jumped out of the chair to be greeted with a “Happy New Year!” from Colorado Republican Cory Gardner.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. poses with the family of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, during the California Democrat’s swearing-in, (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Five minutes later, Biden was in the chamber to begin swearing in members. The visitors balcony was packed with friends and family, including a few crying babies.

Senators starting new terms lined up alphabetically and came down the center aisle in groups of four.

Cortez Masto was escorted by Republican Dean Heller and former minority leader Harry Reid, who returned with cane in hand for the ceremony. She received a standing ovation and hugged Heller, her new partner from the other side of the aisle.

Cory Booker of New Jersey and Joe Manchin of West Virginia arrived late and crossed the floor before the new group was called to get in their seats. Manchin then greeted other senators on both sides throughout the ceremony and rarely sat down.

Minnesota Democrat Al Franken couldn’t stay in his seat, either, his laugh audible throughout the chamber as he spoke with Florida Republican Marco Rubio.

Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was not present and because his Vermont colleague Leahy was re-elected last year and needed a symbolic escort down the aisle, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California filled in for him.

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 3: Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., takes photos as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., speaks on House floor onTuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., takes photos as Speaker Paul D. Ryan speaks on the House floor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Maria Cantwell of Washington was also not present, and former Sen. Barbara Mikulski walked down Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who also won re-election this year.

Mikulski also escorted Van Hollen, her successor, with Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

“I’m back again!” Mikulski said to Biden after Van Hollen, who brought his own Bible, was sworn in.

“I’m glad you are,” the vice president responded.

Indiana Republican Todd Young was escorted by his new colleague, Democrat Joe Donnelly, and former Sen. Richard Lugar. Sen. Dan Coats, who Young is succeeding, did not return to Washington for the ceremony.

Former presidential candidate Marco Rubio was escorted by his Florida colleague, Democrat Bill Nelson, as well as Idaho Republican Jim Risch, who supported Rubio’s presidential run.

In his typical fashion, Biden hugged everyone. Some of his former favorite colleagues, like South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, had a short chat with him.

McConnell urged the new senators to “Take a moment to celebrate the rich tradition of the day” to wrap things up.

A couple hours later, the House was its traditionally rowdy and loud self during its swearing-in.

In Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s opening remarks, several Republicans clapped when when she said that Donald Trump would be inaugurated as president soon. She got applause from Democrats when she added that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama had conducted the presidency with “dignity.”

Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi arrive on the House floor after Ryan was re-elected as Speaker. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

When Pelosi asked the House to thank the Obamas for their time in office, Democrats immediately stood up to applaud and some Republican joined them.

Members were allowed to bring non-adult children onto the floor during the day and Liz Cheney of Wyoming was joined by two sons, one of which stayed on her lap, and her father, former vice president Dick Cheney. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, had to change his shirt and tie before being sworn in because his daughter had spit up on him. 

Already seated members also brought their children and grandchildren, including one very young-sounding crying baby. Members with children on their laps had trouble standing up to give leadership standing ovations during their speeches.

Pelosi pointed out former Arizona congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabby Giffords in the front row and said, “Democrats will stand our ground” on gun control. Some Republicans again joined Democrats in the standing ovation.

While children were fidgety and occasionally ran up and down the aisles,  spouses and other guests sat in the balcony. Pelosi pointed out Jana Ryan, Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s wife, in the balcony with their children and the chamber turned to give her a standing ovation. And upon handing over the gavel to Ryan, the crowd went wild.

“I want to say to the American people: We hear you, we will do right by you and we will deliver,” Ryan said to a standing ovation from all his Republican colleagues.

He added that the House should work on agreeing whenever possible but “at all times, respect.” He said that the 115th Congress’ Republican majority with a Republican president is a once in a lifetime opportunity that he has dreamed of “a lot.”

Ryan then took his oath, conducted by Democrat John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the returning member from either party with the most seniority. 

Joe Barton of Texas was quick to raise his right hand before Ryan asked everyone to do so to be sworn in.

Once sworn in, Cheney gave her father a big hug and other members hugged one another. The floor erupted in noise while everyone walked around to greet one another, meet each others’ kids and congratulate the freshly minted congressmen and women.

It took Ryan several tries to get the House in order to hear Washington Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers and New York Democrat Joe Crowley announce leadership from their respective parties. Eventually, most members left the chamber, upon Ryan’s requests to keep quiet.

Members retreated to their offices and several receptions around the House office buildings.

From left to right: Justin Amaash, Debbie Dingell, at the Michigan open house. (Photo courtesy of Dingell's office)
From left to right: Justin Amash, Debbie Dingell and John Moolenaar at the Michigan open house. (Courtesy Dingell’s office)

Three members of Michigan’s delegation – Democrat Debbie Dingell and Republicans John Moolenaar and Justin Amash – hosted a joint swearing in party in the form of open houses in all their neighboring offices.

It was complete with fudge and candy from the state as well as legendary former Rep. John Dingell, who said he stayed in his wife’s office as she was being sworn in again today.

Former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz hosted a five-hour open house in her office, which members slowly trickled in to.

Meanwhile, new members were spotted taking photographs with their guests outside their offices, in front of new signs with their names on them. Guests roamed the halls, many of whom were lost, to explore the congressional offices.

EMILY’s list held an event the evening of the swearing in to celebrate the 12 newly sworn in females in congress that they support.

“As of today, we just added four New Democratic women to the United States senate. They are extraordinary and we are so, so proud,” president Stephanie Schriock said.

Schriock said that three of the four are women of color. EMILY’s List pushed for women’s health care laws, equal pay and paid leave. The Tuesday evening event at the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel was packed with attended.

“Youve given me the tools,” New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan about the organization. She said how much she beat former Sen. Kelly Ayotte by and added that it was because “everyone in this room…did their part to make this happen.”

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