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Senate’s First Day Relatively Low-Key

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Vice President Joseph Biden and Sen. Lisa Murkowski attend the Senate swearing-in.

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. 

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