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Hello, 111th

Politics | A new Congress convened Tuesday on Capitol Hill, with much pomp and drama

WASHINGTON-Under icy rain outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Roland Burris, 71, declared, "I am the junior senator from Illinois," despite being barred from the Senate chambers minutes earlier. Burris, who Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed last week to fill President-elect Barack Obama's empty Senate seat, said that the secretary of the Senate, Nancy Erickson, told him he did not have the signature of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White on his credentials, which prevented him from taking the seat.

Democratic leadership also opposed his arrival in Senate chambers because of the ongoing investigation into Blagojevich, even though Burris is a well-heeled Democrat.

An hour after Burris' departure, other credentialed senators were sworn in. However, Minnesota, like Illinois, was missing one of its delegation. Though state officials declared Democrat Al Franken the winner on Monday, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman vowed to challenge the results in court, which means the results cannot be certified. Unlike Burris, Franken kept his distance from the Capitol, waiting for the drama in the North Star State to play out. As it stands, the Senate currently is made up of 55 Democrats, 41 Republicans, two independents, and the two vacant seats pending.

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In an ironic twist, Vice President-elect Joe Biden was sworn in to his seventh Senate term by Vice President Dick Cheney. Biden, who will resign from his seat prior to inauguration, circled the room, giving all his buddies bear hugs. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sat on the opposite side of the chamber more subdued, but giving his trademark thumbs-up to his Senate colleagues. Three members of Obama's yet-to-be-confirmed cabinet also were milling about on the Senate floor: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), the future secretary of State; Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), the future secretary of the Interior; and former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the future Secretary of Health and Human Services.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House of Representatives was less of a "who's who" of Washington. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) explained after the swearing-in ceremony that the House is the chamber where you "cannot be appointed." Children and grandchildren of lawmakers played with trains in the aisles and climbed chairs, and the din of a hundred of conversations overtook any sense of solemnity. The House proceeded to re-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to be Speaker for the next session by a wide margin, then she administered the oath of office to all and said, "We will join hands, not point fingers."

Re-elected leader of the Republicans, John Boehner of Ohio, promised that if President-elect Obama reached his hand across the aisle, "Republicans will extend ours in return."

But he added, "We can't simply spend our way back to prosperity," a tip that Pelosi will have a tough Republican minority to deal with as she lays out a massive stimulus package and plans for more spending.

The House now holds 257 Democrats and 178 Republicans, with one vacancy due to Illinois Democrat Rahm Emanuel's appointment as Obama's chief of staff.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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