Political News

Two Democrats Sworn in to Senate, Cutting GOP Margin to One

Posted January 3, 2018 12:38 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — Two new senators — Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Tina Smith, D-Minn. — were sworn in Wednesday, in a history-laden ceremony attended by three current and former vice presidents.

Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, presided over the swearing in. Former Vice President Joe Biden escorted Jones down the central aisle of the Senate chamber, while former Vice President Walter Mondale escorted Smith.

In a sense, the #MeToo movement played a hand in the arrival of both Jones and Smith. Jones, 63, comes to Washington after a raucous special election in which his Republican opponent, the former judge Roy Moore, was accused of molesting teenagers.

Smith, 59, the former lieutenant governor of Minnesota, was appointed by that state’s governor to fill the seat left vacant by the departure of Al Franken, who resigned amid allegations he had forcibly kissed one woman and groped several others.

She becomes the 22nd woman in a chamber that remains heavily lopsided in favor of men. Nonetheless, there are more female senators now — 17 Democrats and five Republicans — than at any time in U.S. history. Smith has already said she will run in a special election this November to claim the seat in her own right.

Jones replaces Sen. Luther Strange, a Republican who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when Sessions became President Donald Trump’s attorney general. His arrival in the Senate makes life more difficult for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader from Kentucky, who now must manage his sometimes fractious conference with a narrow 51-49 majority.

Jones made his name in Alabama as the lawyer who successfully prosecuted two of the Ku Klux Klansmen involved in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, nearly 40 years after the crime. He is the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in 25 years.

This is not his first encounter with the chamber; after he graduated from law school, he spent a year working for former Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala.

Black voters turned out in droves to support him, and he vowed in return to hire a diverse staff. He has already started to make good on that promise; on Tuesday, he named Dana Gresham, an African-American who previously served as an assistant secretary of transportation under former President Barack Obama, as his chief of staff.

Gresham is the only black Democratic chief of staff in the Senate, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research organization that tracks such appointments. Two Republican senators — Tim Scott of South Carolina and Jerry Moran of Kansas — have chiefs of staff who are African-American.