Big Day on Capitol Hill

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 5, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, HOST OF “SPECIAL REPORT”: Welcome back to Special Report. We are skipping the "Grapevine" tonight to focus on what happened in Capitol Hill today when the 112th Congress was gaveled to order. A lot of focus has of course been on the House where Republicans are now in charge.

However, over in the Senate, Democrats maintain control but in smaller numbers. That has prompted talks of a rule change. Fox Business Network correspondent Peter Barnes is here with that story.

PETER BARNES, FOX BUSINESS, CORRESPONDENT: Good evening Bret.  Specifically they are talking about changing the filibuster rules which defenders say protect the rights and views of the minority party but which critics say are being used too often to block legislation and nominations.

No question senators have been invoking the filibuster a lot more in recent years. It takes 60 votes to end one, and in the last Congress Democratic leaders filed motions to do that 136 times, way up from congresses 20 and 40 years ago.

Now Democrats are proposing to allow filibusters in the end of debate and amendment rather than before and after the debate and amendment now. And they also want to make filibustering senators remain on the floor during the filibuster for the entire time, no breaks allowed, just like Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, D-ORE.: The Jimmy Stewart filibuster and that is what this reform does. It says when folks object, to concluding debate it is because they have something to say. And so we are going to require they come to the floor and say it. 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MINORITY LEADER, R-KY.: The founders crafted the Senate to be different. They crafted it to be deliberate, a thoughtful place, and changing the rules and the way that’s been proposed would unalterably change the Senate itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: Now Senator McConnell acknowledges that Republicans have resorted to the filibuster more often, but he says that's because the Democrats refused to allow Republican amendments to legislation. Bret?

BAIER: This is one we'll follow. Peter, thank you.

A bit of a different structure today, we're going to talk about the big day on Capitol Hill and the coming days ahead with tonight's panel right now, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

The structure now has the balance of power in the House 193 Democrats to 242 Republicans. That's in the House. And in the Senate, the balance of power now is 51 Democrats to 47 in the GOP. There you see the House. Let’s get to the Senate the 51 is actually 53 as the two independents caucus with the Democrats.

Charles, thoughts on the day overall?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I am always struck; I'm a sucker for the quiet majesty of the transfer of power. We’re a country that has been going it for almost quarter of a millennium, that’s really quite a record.  And to see it even though it’s not on the presidential level but the House level still impressive.

I was struck by the speeches. Nancy Pelosi went on and on was a bit of a rally for her.  A lot of applause from her side about all of their achievements as a result of which were kicked out of office on their ear I would say, is an aside. And then the Boehner speech, I thought he was really heavy on the humility dust to dust is humble as you get.

And this after all is the guy who led the party to the biggest House land slide in over 70 years. I thought he slightly overdid it. I’m not looking for a glorious triumphalism, but I think he didn't have to wear a sack cloth. This was a great achievement, I think they are ready to go and I hoped for little more pep and vigor in the acceptance.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: I agree. It was definitely a humble speech, and I think everyone looked for him to break down crying at some point. He never did that. We saw some of that; he wiped some tears away at some point.

And I thought Pelosi did rally. Everyone thought she was left for dead after this shellacking in the House. But there she was in the bright blue jacket, sort of poking fun in some ways at Boehner when she handed over the gavel and said, hey, you wanted the biggest one available. That was kind of poking fun at him and in some ways eluding to the fact that he will rule over this thing with a heavy hand.

But one of the thing that is struck me about Boehner's speech was he clearly acknowledged his time there and the Tea Party’s time there could be limited if they don't do the people's bidding and do what they were elected to do.  So I thought that was a nice touch for him.

BAIER: Quickly Steve and we'll start with you on the next segment.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: In terms of it being a historic day, it's less historic than in 1994 simply because of the Republicans had control four years ago. I think it was an interesting day, about two years ago at this time many people were saying that we had now seen a political realignment to the left, and this I think formally ends that supposition.

I think John Boehner's speech was appropriately humble.  I liked the fact that it was humble.  Republicans are saying this is a nice day and we appreciate being here, but really the tough work begins now and we’re ready to do it.

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