Blumenthal, a lone new Democrat, sworn in to U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON–Democrat Richard Blumenthal was sworn in as Connecticut’s junior U.S. Senator on Wednesday, joining a weakened Democratic majority and fulfilling his own lifelong political aspiration.

Blumenthal took the oath of office at 12:10 p.m., with his hand on a weathered Bible he borrowed from a family friend. He was one of 13 new senators-but the only new Democrat-sworn in on Wednesday as the 112th Congress officially got underway.

Across the Capitol, all five of Connecticut’s Democratic House members were also sworn in for new terms. But there was more consternation than jubilation among the state’s House delegation, as they watched ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi cede the gavel to Republicans and Democrats were officially bumped into the minority.

Before the Senate proceedings began, Blumenthal was joined on the floor by his predecessor, ex-Sen. Chris Dodd, who held the seat for three decades, and his new colleague, the state’s now-senior Senator Joseph Lieberman.

Seeming to revel in his last official act, Dodd ushered Blumenthal around the chamber, introducing Blumenthal to other senators. Then he and Lieberman each took an arm to walk Blumenthal down the ornate chamber’s center aisle, where Vice President Joe Biden officially administered the oath.

Blumenthal’s wife, Cynthia, watched from the gallery, along with his four children, his brother, and other family members.

“I am hugely excited, honored, humbled and moved,” Blumenthal said as he walked off the Senate floor at the close of the ceremony.

“It’s a new beginning for me personally,” he said. “But it is really about the people of Connecticut. I will be fighting for them every day.”

Blumenthal has seemingly been preparing for this moment for decades. During 20 years in the attorney general’s office, he let other political opportunities pass him by and only jumped when Dodd, facing a sour electorate and sinking poll numbers, announced last January that he would retire rather than seek a sixth term.

Blumenthal waited just a few hours before announcing his campaign to replace Dodd. “The United States Senate has been a public-service goal for me for a long time,” he said then.

After a tough and expensive campaign, Blumenthal’s official swearing in actually marked a return to Washington, where he first worked as a journalist at the Washington Post and then in the Nixon White House.

Now in the Senate, Blumenthal still doesn’t have a permanent office, working instead out of a windowless basement room. Although he’s hired a half-dozen key staffers, he said he’s waiting for word on his office budget before he rounds out his Senate team. And he’s also not sure yet what committee slots he’ll get.

No matter. On Wednesday, he was smiling and radiant as he made his way through the Senate hallways, trailed by reporters eager for comment from the chamber’s lone new Democrat.

Still, Blumenthal’s transition from attorney general, a powerful executive post, to the Senate, where he’s one of 100 lawmakers in an unwieldy chamber, was on display immediately. Lawmakers took the oath in groups of four, so Blumenthal stood between Sen. Michael Bennet, of Colorado, and Sen. Roy Blunt, of Missouri.

After the pageantry was over, the Senate immediately plunged into a bitter debate about the use of the filibuster and other Senate rules to used block votes on bills and nominees. Blumenthal told reporters that he favored changes that would make it more difficult to filibuster legislation and anonymously block bills.

But with no resolution in sight, the chamber was likely to recess for a long break before taking a vote on that issue. As the debate dragged on, Blumenthal headed to his temporary basement office for a reception with family and friends, before heading back to Hartford for Gov. Dan Malloy’s inaugural festivities.

He wasn’t the only one who decided to skip some of the pomp in the U.S. Capitol for that in Hartford.

“For the first time in 24 years we’ve got a Democratic governor in the state of Connecticut, so that happens to be the big deal going on for Democrats,” said Rep. John Larson, D-1st District.

Larson, who had to shed a half-dozen staffers and move offices when Democrats lost their majority,  was sitting amid crates and boxes in his smaller House office digs. He said he was still negotiating with the GOP about his budget and other issues. “It’s going to take the good part of this month to go through this shake down,” he said.

Asked if he planned to participate in a ceremonial swearing-in, in which each member gets their photo taken with the new House Speaker, John Boehner, of Ohio, Larson said no.

“This is a time for him and his members,” he said. “He’s got so many new freshman and so many of his own members who, for the first time, that’s their speaker. He’s got a great story and let this be his day.”

Similarly, Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, said he planned to skip that photo-op, and he didn’t ask any of his family to come watch him kick off his third term in the House.

“I’m going to get sworn in and then fly back for the inaugural ball,” Murphy said. “I’m very excited about getting sworn in for a 3rd term… but the excitement really is in Hartford this year, not Washington.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said he wanted a picture with Boehner but the time slot Republicans offered conflicted with his flight back to Connecticut.

As with other members, Blumenthal said he’ll be back in Washington Thursday for the rest of the week. Although the House is gearing up for a high-stakes partisan vote next week on health care repeal, the Senate will adjourn for a two-week district work period.

Blumenthal said he’d spend that time taking a “listening tour” of the state that focuses on jobs and the economy.

“One of the my main priorities will be to work for the people of Connecticut in trying to create more jobs , revive the economy and put Connecticut back to work… and to address our deficit and national debt,” Blumenthal said.

He said he would adamantly oppose Republican efforts to repeal the health reform bill, saying the Senate should be a firewall against such partisan moves. But he also said he would be open to improving the health overhaul by enacting additional cost-curbing measures.

Asked how he will approach the transition to such a different role in such a divided body, Blumenthal said his experience working with a diverse group of other attorneys general over the years–on everything from tobacco to Internet safety–would serve him well.

“We formed coalitions of Republican and Democratic attorneys general, and I’m going to seek to do the same bipartisan reaching across the aisle here,” he said. “What I’m told is a lot simply depends on personal chemistry and willingness to cooperate.”