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January 3, 2013

Congress ushering in new members, with old divide

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate ushered in a new Congress Thursday, hewing to tradition and hailing one its own who returned a year after being felled by a stroke.

The 113th Congress convened at 12 noon EST, the constitutionally mandated time, with pomp, pageantry — and of course, politics — on both sides of the Capitol.
In the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden swore in 12 new members elected in November, lawmakers who won another term and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott. The former House member was tapped by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the remaining term of Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned to head a Washington think tank.
Applause from members and the gallery marked every oath-taking. Looking on was former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Shortly before the session, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who had been absent for the past year while recovering from a stroke, slowly walked up the 45 steps to the Senate, with Biden nearby and the Senate leaders at the top of the stairs to greet him.
“A courageous man,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Members of the Illinois congressional delegation and senators stood on the steps.
As he entered the building, resting on a cane, Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., helped Kirk take off his coat. The senator said he was glad to be back.
In the House, members were electing the speaker, with John Boehner poised to win another term. The speaker will then swear in the lawmakers in the afternoon.
While the dozens of eager freshmen are determined to change Washington, they face the harsh reality of another stretch of divided government. The traditions come against the backdrop of a mean season that closed out an angry election year.
A deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” of big tax increases and spending cuts split the parties in New Year’s Day votes, and the House’s failure to vote on a Superstorm Sandy aid package before adjournment prompted GOP recriminations against the leadership.

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