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Democrats take control of the Senate as Kamala Harris swears in new senators

Democrats officially took control of the Senate on Wednesday when Vice President Kamala Harris swore in three new members after she took her own oath of office, giving her party control of the White House and Congress. 

Harris delivered the oath of office to the new Democratic senators: Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Alex Padilla, who replaced her representing the state of California.

She returned to Capital Hill almost five hours after she became the first female vice president to preside over the Senate for the first time. The vice president also serves as president of the Senate. 

Senators gave her a round of applause as she sat in the presiding chair.  

One of her first duties was to read into the record her resignation as a senator from California.

'Yeah, that was very weird,' she said. She then sworn in the new members, which made Senator Chuck Schumer of New York the new majority leader, giving him joint power in Congress with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Afterward she told reporters on Capitol Hill it felt 'amazing' to sit in the presiding chair. 

Democrats officially took control of the Senate on Wednesday when Vice President Kamala Harris swore in three new members after she took her own oath of office

Harris delivered the oath of office to the new Democratic senators: Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Alex Padilla, who replaced her representing the state of California

The three new Democratic senators make the Senate an even 50-50 split between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Harris also swore in Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont as the Senate president pro tempore, which means he's also fourth in line to presidency. Leahy acts as president of the Senate when Harris is not there.

'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 at the Capitol. 'That´s what they sent us here to do.'

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 on January 5th, defeating two Republicans. Padilla was tapped by California Governor Gavin Newsom to finish the remainder of Harris' term.

Warnock is Georgia's first black senator. Padilla is California's first Latino senator.  

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.

The pandemic has claimed 400,000 American lives, and Biden is proposing a $1.9 trillion recovery package to distribute vaccines and shore up an economy struggling from the virus shutdowns. 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. The Senate will need to confirm Biden's Cabinet nominees as launches the new administration.

Yet as Washington looks to turn the page from Trump to the Biden administration, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is not relinquishing power without a fight.

McConnell is 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.

It's an arcane fight McConnell has inserted into what has traditionally been a more routine organizing resolution, but a power play by the outgoing Republican leader grabbing at tools that can be used to block Biden's agenda.

Vice President Kamala Harris presides over the Senate for the first time

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is the new majority leader

Progressive and liberal Democrats are eager to do away with the filibuster to more quickly advance Biden's priorities, but not all rank-and-file Senate Democrats are on board and new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not agreed to any changes.

Instead, Schumer has proposed an organizing resolution modeled after a 2001 agreement reached between the two leaders the last time the chamber was evenly divided. It allowed equal representation on committees, shared resources for offices and other needs and made no mention of filibuster changes at all.

Talks have hit a stalemate, leaving Senate action uncertain.

Biden has said he wants Congress to press ahead on all fronts, confirming his nominees and considering his legislative priorities, but also holding the former president responsible during the impeachment trial.

That´s a tall order for a Senate under normal circumstances, but even more so now in the post-Trump era, with Republicans badly split between their loyalties to the defeated president and wealthy donors who are distancing themselves from Republicans who back Trump.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to soon transmit to the Senate the House-passed article of impeachment against Trump, charged with incitement of insurrection, a step that will launch the Senate impeachment trial.

It will take unanimous consent among senators to toggle between conducting votes on legislative business and serving as jurors in the impeachment trial. The House last week impeached Trump for having sent the mob to the Capitol to 'fight like hell' during the tally of Electoral College votes to overturn Biden´s election.

In his own final acts as majority leader, McConnell made a break with Trump, blaming the defeated president for having 'provoked' the mob. But he also said Biden´s election was not a 'referendum' on the new president´s agenda but a mixed result, even as he lost control of the Senate.

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