Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opened the 111th Congress on Tuesday in a Senate chamber that looked different from just a few weeks ago, displaying a new political map of voters’ optimism — even as the messiness of democracy was just outside its doors.
The side of the chamber where Reid stands is fuller now, with Democratic ranks bolstered by seven more members. The Republicans, with just 41 of the 100 seats, now take up less space.
The same new landscape was seen in the House, where Rep. Dina Titus cast her opening day votes as the first Democrat to represent the suburban Las Vegas district in Henderson.
Titus is seen by her colleagues as a two-fer — a welcome new member and one who knocked off a Republican.
Even the shift in power coming soon to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue was on display with Sen. Joe Biden, the vice-president-elect, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state nominee. Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, sat on the slimmer side of the aisle.
Yet the hopeful image brought by the Nov. 4 electoral landslide for President-elect Barack Obama and Democrats was mucked up on this day by the messy business of politics and the two unresolved Senate seats in Illinois and Minnesota.
Reid is blocking the appointment of Roland Burris because he was chosen by the state’s embattled governor, Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to sell the seat for personal gain.
Reid spoke hopefully in the Senate of a new tone in Washington, invoking Obama’s mantra that all sides can “agree to disagree.” But outside the Capitol, the 71-year-old Burris stood in the cold morning rain, in a public gathering place known as “the swamp,” to tell all who would listen that he was the appointed senator from Illinois despite the Senate’s refusal to let him in.
“I am not seeking to have any kind of confrontation,” Burris said. “I will now consult with my attorneys and we will decide what our next step will be.”
Burris and Reid are to meet today, and Burris is considering a lawsuit.
In the Minnesota case, Reid is trying to gently push out Republican incumbent Norm Coleman by suggesting that “even close elections have winners.” Coleman appears to have narrowly lost his recount in one of the closest Senate races in history.
The two cases are creating a sideshow and revealing Reid once again as a bare-knuckled politician who swings early.
Someone once said if the Senate is the symphony, the House is a rock concert. The scene Tuesday was appropriately lively. As the 434 representatives were sworn into office following a rowdy series of votes, kids were everywhere — children and grandchildren of lawmakers.
Titus sat in the third row, across from fellow Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, who was among the first to congratulate her with a hug. Republican Rep. Dean Heller sat on the other side of the chamber.
Titus made her way back to her new office, where family and friends — and lobbyists — were waiting to welcome her.
One lobbyist buttonholed her near an elevator, promising to introduce her to just the right contacts she would need to help fulfill her legislative mission. Others greeted her at the door.
“This is one of the races I was most delighted about,” confided Cathy Duvall of the Sierra Club, who had campaigned for Titus. “In fact, I saved the text: ‘We won.’ ”
The letter carriers association stopped by. So did the credit union people.
“Dina, I want you to meet a good friend,” another well-wisher was saying, introducing a local lobbyist.
Titus seemed to take it all in stride, shaking hands, making her way through the crowded office foyer.
Her mother sat inside, as did other family and friends, many from Nevada, who had made the trip. “I could not sleep last night,” her mother said in the family’s trademark Georgia drawl, explaining she was up late wondering what Titus’ father, who died a year ago, would be thinking.
“I am proud,” the mom said.
Berkley said later that even after being sworn in for her sixth term, “the majesty of the process is inspiring. This is another peaceful transfer of power from one Congress to another.”
More or less.