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Government, Politics & Issues

Opening day of new Congress: Kirk walks the walk, McCaskill is sworn in, Wagner celebrates

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 3, 2013 - WASHINGTON – For U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., the opening of the 113th Congress on Thursday meant a difficult but triumphant walk up the U.S. Capitol steps – flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and cheered by dozens of fellow senators.

For beaming U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., it was a day of celebration with two dozen family members as she took the oath of office from Biden to become the first Missouri Democrat in three decades to be sworn in to a second term in the Senate.

And for brand-new U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, it was a long but exhilarating day of greeting hundreds of well-wishers, taking the oath from (and re-electing) Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and getting national media exposure as an up-and-coming freshman.

Here are a few scenes from the tumultuous first day of the new Congress:

Kirk takes some big steps in return to Senate

Shortly before noon, Kirk – who has been in intensive rehab from a severe stroke he suffered a year ago this month – walked up 45 Capitol steps to cheers and applause from Biden, his Illinois colleague Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and most members of the U.S. Senate.

With his left side mostly paralyzed, Kirk steadied himself with a cane and was supported by his friend, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. As Kirk and Manchin slowly walked up the steps, Biden walked parallel to them on one side and Durbin on the other.

In an historic scene, nearly all members of the Senate, including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., cheered their colleague every step of the way. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., greeted Kirk at the top of the stairs, near the outer door to the Senate.

“It’s a historic comeback for a senator who has worked hard to come back and show that those who have suffered strokes can survive and prosper and return to work," Durbin said afterwards. 

"It’s also evidence that a lot of us, regardless of party affiliation, can come together to show the human side of politics.”

McCaskill sworn in for second term

A couple of hours later, McCaskill – flanked by Blunt and former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan (the first Missouri woman to serve in the Senate) – walked up to the Senate podium and took the official oath of office from Biden.

She then headed with her husband Joseph Shepard, their children and other family members to the Old Senate Chamber for another, ceremonial swearing-in by the vice president.

As he posed for photos with McCaskill and her family, a typically grinning Biden could be heard saying to one of the senator's daughters: “You’ve got one tough Mom there!”

After the ceremony, McCaskill said it was an exhilarating day – the start of a new six-year term for which she has plenty of goals. “I plan to fight for new opportunities for my kids and grandkids, and for all young Missourians — to create more jobs, and continue my dogged effort to bring down the national debt,” she said.

“And any politician or contractor tempted to waste taxpayer dollars for their own benefit should be on notice — if I have it my way, these next six years will see a new level of accountability in government.”

In all, 23 members of McCaskill’s family attended Thursday’s events, including 6 of the couple’s 7 children, 5 of their 6 grandchildren, and the senator’s siblings.

Afterwards, McCaskill said she was sad that her late mother, Betty Anne McCaskill, who died in October, could not take part in the family celebrations.

“Really missing mom,” the senator said in a Tweet. “Wearing her wedding rings today. She would've been so happy and making new friends all over the Capitol.”

Big crowd of well-wishers greets Wagner

In her new office on the fourth floor of the Cannon House Office Building, Wagner – along with her family members and staff – greeted a big crowd of well-wishers from her district in St. Louis County and around Missouri.


Like other House members, she was sworn into office, threw a party in her new digs, took part in party caucuses and the reelection of Boehner as speaker. Unlike many of the other freshmen, however, Wagner also got some national media attention as the freshman representative to House Republican leadership.

Among the well wishers at the party in her office were several of Missouri’s congressmen, including U.S. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, and Billy Long, R-Springfield. “Ann is going places,” quipped Long.

Speaking shortly after some GOP conservatives had voted against Boehner for speaker, both Luetkemeyer and Long said they had supported the embattled Republican House leader. Wagner, who is on the speaker's GOP leadership team, also backed Boehner. 

In a statement, Wagner said, “The people of Missouri's 2nd congressional district insist that Congress get things done and that is what I intend to do.

"I am committed to standing up for conservative principles of reining in our out-of-control spending, cutting the debt, reforming our tax code, eliminating onerous regulations and rebuilding confidence in our economy.”

Enyart and Davis: nearby Illinois districts, Capitol offices

There were lots of visitors from southern, southwestern and central Illinois on the 7th floor of the Longworth House Office Building on Thursday afternoon.

That's because the two new House members from the region -- U.S. Reps. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville -- wound up with nearby congressional offices on the same floor.

Following a tradition of the opening day of Congress, both of the new lawmakers laid out a tasty spread of sandwiches, soda and treats in their offices and welcomed visitors for part of the afternoon. 

Enyart, a retired general and the former adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, was pleased to get a seat on the House Armed Services Committee. He said he wanted to work in Congress to "create a strong economic future for all of our families and protect the Southern Illinois way of life we share."

Davis, a former top aide to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, kept busy with House GOP meetings and spent as much time as he could with his family and dozens of supporters who visited from his district, which extends westwards to parts of Edwardsville, Alton and Collinsville. 

Davis' children -- Toryn, Clark and Griffin -- joined him in the House chamber for the swearing-in ceremony, while his wife, Shannon, and other family members and friends watched from the gallery.

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