By J. Taylor Rushing - 02/04/10 11:13 PM EST
Republican Scott Brown was sworn in late Thursday as Massachusetts’ junior senator in a smooth, quick — and cataclysmic — end to Senate Democrats' reign of a filibuster-proof, 60-seat majority.
Brown was in the Capitol a little more than two hours, only an hour of which was public. The senator was sworn in twice, once officially on the floor of the Senate chamber and then a second time in the historic Old Senate Chamber for photographic purposes. Vice President Joe Biden, wearing a wide smile, presided over both occasions as Brown stood alongside his wife, Gail Huff, a Massachusetts broadcast journalist.
Brown walked onto the Senate floor behind Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and alongside Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). He was then greeted by other members of the Bay State delegation, first by Paul Kirk (D), whom Brown was replacing, then by Reps. Ed Markey (D) and Stephen Lynch (D), who had considered running for Kirk's seat. Rep. James McGovern (D), who represents Brown's home district outside Boston, was also there.
Last month Brown won a stunning upset victory over Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) for the seat held for 47 years by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). His victory gives Republicans 41 seats — enough to potentially deny Democrats procedural votes on major bills. Brown will occupy Kennedy’s old office, which was Russell 317, but Kennedy’s desk on the Senate floor will be taken over by Kerry.
In a press conference immediately afterward, Brown said he would decide issues individually and that there are occasions when he would support the Democratic agenda.
“The bottom line is, there needs to be more communication between both parties,” he said. “The main thing I heard from the people of Massachusetts is that they’re tired of the backroom deals, they’re tired of the bickering, and they want people to solve their problems.
“There are very real problems we’re dealing with, and if I see a bill that is good for my state first, I don’t care where it comes from. If it’s good for Massachusetts first, I’m going to consider it. I’ve always worked across party lines to solve problems. I have a history of almost 6,000 votes doing just that. I’m looking forward to analyzing each and every bill and making a decision when it comes up.”
Asked to gauge his support for healthcare, Brown repeated a familiar line from his campaign, that Massachusetts voters already have healthcare under a state-run system and that he objected to a plan by which his state would subsidize others.
“When you look at what he had, even though it’s not perfect, and then you look at what would potentially be coming down the pike from the federal government, it just wasn’t good for Massachusetts. We need to go back to the drawing board and start again, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that.”
Biden, speaking to reporters after Brown’s swearing-in, told reporters that the chances for healthcare reform were “still good” and that President Barack Obama will be reaching out soon to GOP leaders.
Biden also emphasized that the media should not exaggerate Brown’s victory and its impact on the Democratic majority.
“I keep reminding everybody: The day Barack— the day the president was sworn in, we had 58 Democratic senators, OK? Let’s get this straight. We started off on Jan. 20 with 58 Democratic senators. We briefly had 60 Democratic senators. The game plan from the beginning was not that we needed a supermajority of 60 votes. There’s a little disappointment because it seems like the only way to do business up here is to get a supermajority on almost everything.”
Brown was originally supposed to be sworn in a week later, on Feb. 11, but changed his mind on Wednesday and decided to arrive earlier — a decision for which he was gently chided earlier Thursday by Kerry for the upheaval it caused for Kirk's staff.
Kerry told a group of reporters gathered just down the hall from Russell 317 that Brown's sudden change of heart occurred with less than 24 hours' notice, forcing Kirk's staff to vacate immediately.
"It might have been done a little more sensitively and thoughtfully,” Kerry said. "There are votes coming up, and that's how you measure what people are going to do around here. I suppose he wants to be a part of those votes, and he has every right to be. I understand that. All I'm saying is we had agreed, all of us, that we were swearing him in on the 11th of February. And everyone was working towards that date, including the people in Paul Kirk's office.”
Walter Alarkon contributed to this story