Three VPs, Football Boasts and a Relief Baseball Pitcher: Not Your Normal Swearing-In Day

With Democrats Smith and Jones, GOP Senate edge now down to 51-49

Sen. Tina Smith, center, walks with fellow Minnesota Democrats, former Vice President Walter Mondale and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, from the Senate floor to the Old Senate Chamber for her ceremonial swearing-in. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The start of the second session of a Congress lacks most of the pageantry of the first, but Wednesday’s arrival of two new senators prompted some pomp and circumstance, including the rare sight of three vice presidents on the Senate floor at the same time.

Democratic Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Tina Smith of Minnesota took the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence shortly after noon, each escorted down the chamber’s aisle by a former vice president.

Walter Mondale joined his fellow Minnesotan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in bringing Smith to the dais, while on hand to escort Jones was Joseph R. Biden Jr

Neither Al Franken, the former Minnesota senator whose resignation took effect Tuesday, nor Alabama’s senior senator, Richard C. Shelby, was on the floor for the proceedings.

But quite a few senators made the trip back to the Capitol early to greet their new colleagues, and Biden, in particular, took full advantage of one more opportunity to catch up with old friends.

Watch: Pence Swears in Democratic Sens. Jones and Smith

“Hey Dick, how are ya, man?” he could be heard asking Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois ahead of the proceedings. He also served as a sherpa for Jones, introducing him to several senators, including Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

Leadership welcome

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York each welcomed the new members, who bring the divide in the chamber to a one-seat GOP majority, 51-49.

“Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama will have big shoes to fill. His state has sent some very distinguished legislators to Washington, including our Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sen. Jones brings a background in law enforcement, having served as a federal prosecutor in the northern district of Alabama. We welcome him,” McConnell, an Alabama native himself, said during his leader remarks.

“We also welcome Sen. Tina Smith. For three years, she has served the people of Minnesota as their lieutenant governor. Now she will join Sen. Klobuchar in representing them here in this body. I congratulate both of these new senators,” McConnell said. “I look forward to working with them in the months ahead to make bipartisan progress and find common ground on behalf of the American people.”

As the new senators worked the floor during introductions, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown approached Jones with a photo of former Major League Baseball relief pitcher Doug Jones.

The 16-year MLB veteran was a bit of a journeyman who made five All-Star teams and was known for his particularly slow changeups for teams including Brown’s beloved Cleveland Indians.

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 03: Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., is administered an oath by Vice President Mike Pence during a swearing-in ceremony in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber after the actual event on the senate floor on January 3, 2018. Jones' wife Louise, and sons Chris, left, and Carson, also appear. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, surrounded by his family, is administered an oath by Vice President Mike Pence during a swearing-in ceremony in the Capitol’s Old Senate Chamber after the actual event on the Senate floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Brown had made a $10 bet that the new junior senator from Alabama would know the former baseball player of the same name, and Jones confirmed that he did, signing the photograph as proof, according to someone familiar with the exchange on the Senate floor.

Political football

Schumer used his leader remarks to praise not only Jones and Smith, but the victories of their college and professional football teams this last weekend — the University of Alabama’s win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl and the Minnesota Vikings nailing down the second seed in the National Football Conference playoffs.

“I predict that both will become influential voices in this historic chamber, and each of their states had great football victories this weekend, I might add. I watched Alabama win over Clemson … [and] watched Minnesota, my favorite team outside the three New York teams, come in second in the whole NFC and gain a bye as we move to the playoffs. So it was a … great day for these two states in a lot of ways this weekend, and it’s very good so far in 2018 with the swearing-in of these two senators,” the New York Democrat said.  

Somehow, Schumer was able to contain himself and not specifically mention the Buffalo Bills, who made the playoffs on Sunday for the first time since 1999 — at least during his leader remarks. 

During his last re-election run in 2016, one of Schumer’s more prominent ads featured Hall of Fame Bills quarterback Jim Kelly attesting that the longtime lawmaker was his favorite Bill, because he helped keep the team in Western New York. 

Jason Dick contributed to this report. 

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