With Kirk's swearing-in, GOP formally claims Obama's old seat

Senate Republicans on Monday formally claimed President Obama’s former Senate seat with the swearing-in of Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkDuckworth settles retaliation lawsuit The Trail 2016: Berning embers Senate Dems link court fight to Congressional Baseball Game MORE (R-Ill.).

As is customary, Kirk was sworn in by Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: US 'preferred a different outcome' on Brexit Abortion is weakness for Clinton VP favorite Overnight Defense: Biden hits Trump on national security | Dems raise pressure over refugees | Graham vows fight over spending caps MORE twice — once on the Senate floor, which is closed to photographers, and again down the hall in the Old Senate Chamber, in front of the media. Questions from reporters were not allowed.

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A five-term congressman whose district stretched north of the Chicago area, along Lake Michigan, Kirk beat out Illinois state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) on Nov. 2 with 56 percent of the vote, after a bitter contest marked by inartful campaigns on both sides.

Because the campaign was a special election to fill out the remainder of Obama’s elected term in the Senate, Kirk is allowed to participate in the lame-duck session. Paperwork delays prevented him from being seated earlier.

The first of 95 Republicans coming in to the 112th Congress, Kirk replaces Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), a controversial appointee by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). Since Burris was the Senate’s only African-American member, the chamber now has none.

His arrival leaves the Senate with 56 Democrats, 42 Republicans and two independents, both of whom caucus with Democrats, for the duration of the lame-duck session.

In a brief exchange before administering the oath, Biden’s microphone was left on, allowing reporters to listen for a moment.

“Congratulations,” Biden whispered to Kirk. “I’m going to repeat the whole oath.”

Kirk was accompanied on the Senate floor by Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenate Dems link court fight to Congressional Baseball Game Dems: Immigration decision will 'energize' Hispanic voters Senate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling MORE (D-Ill.), who had backed Giannoulias in the campaign, and former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.). Kirk took the oath on an 1827 Bible that once belonged to Adm. David Farragut.

Kirk made no statement or speech, but in a statement released early Monday said his priorities would be to repair the economy, slash federal spending and eliminate congressional earmarks.

In his own statement, Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady said Kirk would guard against Obama’s “over-reach.”

“Mark believes in limited and effective government, and will be there to stand against the over-reach of the Obama White House or the Democratic majority in the Senate,” Brady said.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) also issued a statement, saying Kirk would make an "extraordinary senator."

"We both served on the House Appropriations Committee, and I've seen first-hand that he always puts Illinois first," Jackson said. "I know Senator Kirk will work with our entire delegation to create jobs in communities that desperately need them. In addition, he's been a strong leader on imposing tough sanctions on Iran. I look forward to working closely with him on behalf of Illinois and the country, and send Senator Kirk my warmest congratulations on being sworn in today."