Menu

Politics

Senate Welcomes 16, While Quayle, Clarence Thomas, Alito Look On

The 16 newly-elected members of the Senate, 13 of them Republican, are now officially senators, having been sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden shortly after NOON on Wednesday.

Biden was in his element, as he back-slapped and hugged his former male colleagues, and planted a kiss on the cheek of many of the women he once served alongside.

The members came in groups of four, new mixed with old, alphabetically and some with VIP's in tow.

Partisanship was left, for a time, at the curbside, with senior members escorting junior members, regardless of party I.D. On Wednesday, former Vice President Dan Quayle, himself a former GOP senator, escorted incoming Republican Sen. Dan Coates - both from the Hoosier State. North Carolina's former senator and former Secretary of the Depts. Of Labor and Transportation, Elizabeth Dole, walked the newly-reelected Richard Burr, R-NC, down the aisle to take the oath of office. Former Senator and Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, a Republican, joined his daughter, Lisa, who only recently made it through a legal challenge to her reelection effort. Incoming Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Tea Party darling, received an escort from former Senator and HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, R-Fla.

And while the history books were filled Wednesday with the names of the famous, one particular milestone stood out above all others. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the spitfire incumbent Maryland Democrat, became the longest serving female senator in U.S. history, as Biden swore her in for a fifth term.

"The history of women is short," the senator recounted, with her trademark wit and grin, adding, "Four foot eleven short," as she motioned over her own head to indicate her diminutive stature. "Though I break one record today, I'm going to work with all of you to break more records."

Even the woman who became the first Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., though pushed into the minority after November's election, took time out of her busy day to tweet, ""112th Congress is about to begin - watch live at http://houselive.gov - as @SenatorBarb makes history, longest serving woman!"

Looking on from the public gallery arrayed above the chamber, a host of VIP's, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia; Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito; former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao - wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; as well as, Cindy McCain. Landra Reid, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who also took the oath of office after his rough and tumble reelection effort against a Tea Party Republican, also looked on, as her husband pulled a number of senators aside to point to his wife and wave. His petite spouse, whom he has called "the love of my life," was in a minivan with her daughter when the two were rear-ended by a tractor trailer in March.

But the warm feelings of bipartisanship soon dissolved beneath an effort by Democrats to change the rules that govern the chamber. Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, plans to introduce a resolution Wednesday, that would open up the rules to some kind of alteration aimed at diminishing the current power of the minority, particularly as it pertains to Rule XXII which controls the filibuster.

"I've filled the amendment tree more than I would have liked to," Reid said, indicating the procedure by which a majority leader can prohibit amendments from the minority, but the leader said he did so because too often Republicans put forward amendments "to score political points." Reid said the rules of the Senate are central the chamber's operation, "but they're not sacrosanct...I'm going to work to the best of my ability with my friend from Kentucky..to work this out," Reid said, referring to McConnell, with whom he is trying to negotiate a compromise.

McConnell, for his part, called Udall's effort "a bad idea," and said, "For two years, Americans have been telling us that they're tired of being shut out of the legislative process. They want to be heard. And the response they're now getting from some on the other side, instead, is a proposal to change the Senate rules so they can continue do exactly what they want with even fewer members than before. Instead of changing their behavior in response to the last election, they want to change the rules."

Each side sighted record-breaking statistics in obstruction and hindrance of the other and made clear that finding a path forward would be difficult. But Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, poised to become the top Republican on the Rules Committee, has indicated that a middle ground can be found if Democrats can allow more GOP amendments. Alexander even voiced support for a measure that would eliminate the practice of anonymously blocking nominees and/or legislation.

If no bipartisan agreement can be reached, Democrats will have a tough time forcing a change in the rules, with Sen. Ben Nelson, a moderate Democrat from Nebraska, telling the Omaha World-Herald Wednesday, "The last thing we need to do is start changing rules, with 51 votes and a simple majority, and make the Senate a smaller version of the House."