The Mercury News
Senate confirms Cabinet pick; 3 new Dem senators sworn in
WASHINGTON >> Three new senators were sworn into office Wednesday after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, securing the majority for Democrats in the Senate and across a unified government to tackle the new president’s agenda at a time of unprecedented national challenges.
In a first vote, the Senate also confirmed Biden’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines. Senators worked into the evening and overcame some Republican opposition to approve his first Cabinet member, in what’s traditionally a show of good faith on Inauguration Day to confirm at least some nominees for a new president’s administration.
Haines, a former CIA deputy director, will become a core member of Biden’s security team, overseeing the 18 agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community. She was confirmed 84-10.
The new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged colleagues to turn the spirit of the new president’s call for unity into action.
“President Biden, we heard you loud and clear,” Schumer said. “We have a lengthy agenda. And we need to get it done together.”
Vice President Kamala Harris drew applause as she entered the chamber to deliver the oath of office to the new Democratic senators — Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla — just hours after taking her own oath at the Capitol alongside Biden.
The three Democrats join a Senate narrowly split 5050 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote.
Ossoff, a former congressional aide and investigative journalist, and Warnock, a pastor from the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Atlanta, won run-off elections in Georgia this month, defeating two Republicans. Padilla was tapped by California’s governor to finish the remainder of Harris’ term.
“Today, America is turning over a new leaf. We are turning the page on the last four years; we’re going to reunite the country, defeat COVID-19, rush economic relief to the people,” Ossoff told reporters earlier at the Capitol. “That’s what they sent us here to do.”
Taken together, their arrival gives Democrats for the first time in a decade control of the Senate, the House and the White House, as Biden faces the unparalleled challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout, and the nation’s painful political divisions from the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by a mob loyal to Donald Trump.
Congress is being called on to consider Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID recovery package, to distribute vaccines and shore up an economy as more than 400,000 Americans have died from the virus. At the same time, the Senate is about to launch an impeachment trial of Trump, charged by the House of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol as rioters tried to interrupt the Electoral College tally and overturn Biden’s election.
Haines’ nomination was temporarily blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Okla., as he sought information about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is holding back the Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas over Biden’s proposed immigration changes.
And McConnell is refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats unless they meet his demands, chiefly to preserve the Senate filibuster — the procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation. McConnell said the election results with narrow Democratic control of the House and Senate showed that Americans “intentionally entrusted both political parties with significant power.”