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Scenes from the 112th Congress: Opening Day on Capitol Hill Scenes from the 112th Congress: Opening Day on Capitol Hill

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Congress

Congress

Scenes from the 112th Congress: Opening Day on Capitol Hill

Roses, hankies, and pesto ravioli as lawmakers start the year with tears and good wishes.

A new Congress has convened for the 112th time in the nation's history, and National Journal's reporters live-blogged the festivities. Now the pomp and circumstance is over and the lawmakers are getting down to the serious business of debate over rules. We'll be covering all the action at National Journal.com.

3:43 p.m. Speaking before a nearly-empty Senate gallery, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, offered his own filibuster reform proposal, which he has been pushing since the mid-1990s. Harkin’s proposal has been overshadowed by a series of proposals that Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has offered, reports National Journal's Dan Friedman. Both proposals would require a complex procedural process to alter Senate rules.

 

3:37 p.m. Becoming a senator gave Pat Toomey one last chance to reflect on the career of his political arch-rival, Arlen Specter, whom he narrowly lost to in Pennsylvania's 2004 GOP primary. Speaking to National Journal's Alex Roarty and other reporters shortly after being ceremonially sworn-in by Vice President Joe Biden, Toomey demurred when asked whether he learned anything from Specter. But he did compliment the 30-year incumbent's work ethic and desire to fund medical research. "I do acknowledge he's had a long and distinguished career," he said.

3:29 p.m. Quote of the day? “Why is it that this body has become so unpopular?” asks House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., while proposing new rules for the House.

3:20 p.m. It was a joyful day for Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, one of the most unexpected new members of Congress. Last January, he was an unpaid sidekick on a small Texas talk radio show. Today, he told Hotline's Jessica Taylor that, during the swearing-in in the House chamber, he was commiserating with neighbor Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., about the weeks-long recount before each's victory. He asked voters to give him time to make a mark. Both Farenthold and Buerkle are prime targets for the Democrats in 2012. Read all of Hotline's conversation with Farenthold here.

 

3:12 p.m. Postgame plans for Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., include an event at the Capitol Hill Club with tea party group Americans for Prosperity. "We're going to have one chance to do it right; one chance to demonstrate to the American people that we're committed to returning our national government to fiscal responsibility, limited government, and reform," Pence, echoing a tea party slogan, told reporter Lindsey Boerma.

3:05 p.m. In an afternoon dominated by one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a little more news came from the other side. President Obama is going to speak to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Wall Street Journal reported. The chamber has been a foe to many administration efforts.

2:59 p.m. Mitch McConnell's next stop: the reception for newly elected Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, which is more crowded. One reason may be its generous spread of pesto ravioli, roast beef, and sliders, reports Jim O'Sullivan.

2:55 p.m. In a stranger-than-fiction moment, John Boehner's family gets denied access to the Speaker's Lobby! His daughters, wife, and sisters-in-law get stopped by guards at about 2:40 p.m. before someone was summoned to escort them through, reports National Journal's Lindsey Boerma.

 

2:50 p.m. National Journal's Cameron Joseph finds a nostalgic former GOP Rep.-turned MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough, coming off the House floor: "It's just the same (as '94), it's like going back to high school,'' Scarborough said. "But talking to the new members, I don't think they're going to make the same mistakes we did. They're not going to set themselves on fire like we did, say stupid things and shut down the government."

2:45 p.m. And now some postgame Senate action. Reporter Jim O'Sullivan trails the Dakotans: Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and his family drop by newly minted North Dakota GOP Sen. John Hoeven's reception in the CVC ... followed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

2:28 p.m. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., took out his digital SLR camera and snapped a photo of press photographers and camera men. "You look great" the Vermonter said.

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2:23 p.m. The focus may be on Congress today but as lawmakers return to Washington, there's also some presidential maneuvering in the air. Hotline On Call reports that former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has just snapped up a Hill staffer for his presumed Republican presidential bid. And Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta got Rep. Michele Bachmann's office to confirm that the Minnesota Republican and tea party fave is also not ruling out a run for the White House.

2:16 p.m. "I do," says Boehner as Dingell finishes reading the speaker's oath of office. And with that, the Ohio Republican officially assumes the helm of the House. For those of you keeping track at home, the Boehner hanky wipe count is now at four, reports Hotline's Dan Roem.

2:15 p.m. "Welcome to the People's House. Welcome to the 112th Congress," says Boehner, basking in bipartisan cheers as he completes his maiden speech as speaker. In a bipartisan touch, Boehner is calling Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who is the longest serving member of the House, to administer the oath of office to him.

2:14 p.m. Boehner says he wants a more amicable House but admits it will not be easy to achieve. "We will not always get it right. We will not always get it right. A great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle," he says.

2:10 p.m. "Our aim will be to give the government back to the American people," says Boehner. He's promising more accountability and transparency.

2:08 p.m. The wheel of political fortune can turn, Boehner warns his fellow House members. He quotes the liturgy of the Catholic Ash Wednesday service:"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."

2:07 p.m. Boehner is delivering his first speech to the House as speaker. He begins with a gracious acknowledgement of his rival: "Thank you for your kind words and thank you for your service to this institution," he tells Pelosi. He acknowledged several of his "best buds," including two Republican senators who served with him in the House: Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Richard Burr of North Carolina.

2:04 p.m. The gavel has been passed from Nancy Pelosi to John Boehner. "God Bless you," she said, as she embraced him. "God Bless America."

2:02 p.m. The first hanky sighting: Boehner had to use his when Pelosi waved to his wife.

2:01 p.m. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former House member, is taking advantage of his privileges as a former House member to wander on and off the floor schmoozing with members, reports Cameron Joseph. Lindsey Boerma adds that Scarborough's co-host Mika Brzezinski and Morning Joe executive producer Chris Licht are relegated to the House Press Gallery balcony.

1:58 p.m. Nancy Pelosi is not backing down. In her first speech to the 112th Congress, she hails the achievements of the 111th—which her party controlled. Among the achievements she's citing: making college more affordable, passing a patients bill of rights, Wall Street financial reform, ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military, and battling a major financial crisis. "We staved off depressison," she says. 

1:57 p.m. It's official, reports Cameron Joseph: Boehner is crying.

1:50 p.m. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., was spotted scarfing a wiener in the Speaker's Lobby right before heading onto the House floor, reports Lindsey Boerma.

1:47 p.m. The total number of Democratic defectors from Pelosi in the House is 19. Reid Wilson and Josh Kraushaar have the complete rundown in Hotline On Call.

1:41 p.m. Alex Roarty reports it's unclear whether there are more staffers or children roaming the Senate hallways right now. "Either way,'' he messages via iPhone, "it feels like an amusement park in here.''

1:30 p.m. Cameron Joseph reports that Democrats split on the vote for their leader.  At least 18—most from conservative districts—cast votes for someone other than Nancy Pelosi. Popular alternatives included Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., a leader of the Democratic centrists, and John Lewis, D-Ga., a hero of the civil rights movement.

1:20 p.m. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the Republican senators that he leads begin the session "conscious of the limitations that our minority status and the president's veto pen involve." He says "the best solutions are forged through consensus not through confrontation." He's strongly opposing a change in filibuster rules. "What's being considered here is unprecedented," McConnell said.

Here's the money quote:

 

“First, it’s stating the obvious that anything that passes in the Senate with a narrower majority than 60 is going nowhere in a newly-Republican led House of Representatives. So any short-term gain ends halfway across the dome. Second, a change in the rules aimed at benefiting Democrats today could just as easily be used to benefit Republicans tomorrow. Do our friends across the aisle really want to create a situation where, two or four or six years from now, they suddenly find themselves powerless to prevent Republicans from overturning legislation they themselves have worked so hard to enact? “But the larger point is this. The Founders crafted the Senate to be different. They crafted it to be a deliberate, thoughtful place. And changing the rules in the way that’s been proposed would unalterably change the Senate itself. It will no longer be the place where the whole country is heard and has the ability to have its say, a place that encourages consensus and broad agreement — in short, it would make this place even less like the place Americans want it to be.

 

1:17 p.m. John Boehner, R-Ohio, has just secured the 218 votes he needs to become speaker of the House. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wearing a Democratic blue suit,has been taking it all in from the House floor. She's been flanked by her chief deputy, Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and one of her granddaughters.

1:08 p.m. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is delivering his opening address. He expressed gratitude that "the people of Nevada have entrusted me with another term" and to his fellow Democrats for keeping him as their leader. "The 111th Congress was the most productive in American history," he said. But he says that reforms are necessary "because the current system has been abused." It's a reference to the effort underway to change the filibuster. "We wasted hour after hour, day after day," Reid said. "I've been forced to use my right as majority leader to fill what we call the amendment tree more than I would have liked. ... The current minority has offered amendments simply to waste time."

1:06 p.m. Vice President Biden has had as much fun as he can stand. He's turned the Senate president's chair over to Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the dean of the chamber.

12:57 p.m. Later today, the Senate will be voting on a controversial measure to change the rules for governing one of the chamber's most venerable perquisites: the filibuster. You can check out the text of the resolution that will be offered by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., yourselves.

12:56 p.m. "For me it's a great honor to join Margaret Chase Smith in the history books," Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., just said, acknowledging her colleagues' tribute. "For me, it's not how long I serve but how well I serve." Mikulski is an outspoken feminist but she went out of her way to thank "the men who have voted for me."

12:54 p.m. Sharp-eyed political reporter Alex Roarty just shot us this vignette:

 

Talk about an unlikely odd couple. Minutes before session began, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., walked onto the Senate floor to find Pat Toomey, the new Republican senator from Pennsylvania and his ideological opposite, standing in front of him. Despite the partisan divide, the two men shook hands, smiles beaming as they made small talk for a few minutes. Franken and Toomey do share something in common—both men were one-time political longshots who few would have guessed would ever meet on the Senate floor. Franken was a former comedian on Saturday Night Live, while Toomey was a political afterthought in Pennsylvania until he rode the conservative wave of 2010 to victory. Their brief conversation was one of many to dot the Senate floor before the session began. Most of them featured introductory handshakes and wide smiles as the newly elected senators met the chamber's veterans—if politics is often compared to high school, then this was freshman orientation. And even if the next two years will likely be marked by bitter partisanship, on Wednesday at least senators from both sides seemed genuinely pleased to meet their new colleagues and welcome them to the Senate. We'll see how long that lasts.

 

12:48 p.m. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is paying tribute to Mikulski's milestone by wearing a pin that was owned by the senator whom Mikulski just surpassed as the Senate's longest serving woman. The pin is a silver holder for a red rose, a trademark lapel decoration favored by Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, R-Maine.

12:47 p.m. Jim O'Sullivan, a New Englander himself, observes that new Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, looks suspiciously tan for a native of the frigid region. O'Sullivan also spotted new Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., chatting amicably with one of President Obama's top Senate allies: Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

12:44 p.m. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., just fulfilled a campaign promise to vote against Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Instead of backing her for House Speaker, he cast a vote for his Democratic colleague, Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C.

12:39 p.m. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is accepting congratulations from her colleagues. She is now the longest-serving woman member of the Senate. "She has had a path-breaking career," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "She's as committed to social and economic justice as any senator who has served in this great chamber." He says it was Mikulski's suggestion that members of Congress join in singing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol after the terror attacks of September 11, producing one of the most uplifting moments of that grim day.

12:34 p.m. Let the partisanship begin. While Republicans and Democrats are still playing nice on the House floor, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, is doing his best to rub salt in the opposition party's wounds. Here's the statement he just issued:

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