WASHINGTON -- Two new Democratic senators were sworn in Wednesday, including Alabama's Doug Jones, whose stunning special-election win narrowed the Republican majority in the chamber to just 51-49 as President Donald Trump looks to implement his 2018 agenda.
Jones was joined by Tina Smith of Minnesota, appointed by that state's governor to replace former Sen. Al Franken, who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Vice President Mike Pence swore in the new senators, who were accompanied by two former vice presidents -- Joe Biden, a longtime colleague of Jones who campaigned for the former federal prosecutor, and Walter Mondale with Smith -- as visitor galleries filled with family members and supporters.
Among those watching was former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who was a deputy in the Justice Department when Jones -- as U.S. attorney in Alabama -- prosecuted Ku Klux Klansmen decades after the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
Senate leaders praised their new colleagues in a rare moment of comity. Later Wednesday, talks were scheduled to get underway on a difficult budget deal to avert a mid-month government shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the new lawmakers with an almost resigned relief after the Alabama special election split Republicans over the child molestation allegations against GOP candidate Roy Moore.
McConnell was among many high-profile Republican leaders who said Moore should step aside, willing to lose the seat that had been held by longtime GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, now head of Trump's Justice Department. Trump strongly backed Moore, saying it would be worse to allow a Democrat to take the seat.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., gushed that it was "exciting" to welcome his new colleagues, noting Smith's expertise in state government, most recently as lieutenant governor.
Asked earlier Wednesday, what kind of senator he would be, Jones, who becomes the first Democratic senator from Alabama in more than 20 years, echoed his campaign plea for common-sense leadership. He now represents a deep Republican stronghold where Trump remains popular.
"I'm hoping to be a good senator," he told NBC. "I don't think that's a partisan issue. I think any good senator is a bipartisan, and that's what I'm looking to do."
The House and Senate convened Wednesday for the first time in 2018 as Congress is staring down a Jan. 19 deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan called congressional leaders for a meeting with White House officials later in the day to begin negotiating budget spending levels, but Democrats are bringing other issues to the table, including a resolution for so-called Dreamers, the young immigrants at risk of deportation under Trump's decision to end their temporary permits to work and remain in the U.S.
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