WASHINGTON – Angus King, the affable former governor who rode Maine’s independent streak to a U.S. Senate seat, took the oath of office Thursday during a day of ceremony and camaraderie that belied the challenges facing Congress.
Wearing a shiny new Senate lapel pin and a lobster tie that his wife, Mary Herman, gave him Thursday morning, King raised his right hand along with three other senators as Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath to the group.
“Well, I made my speech: I do,'” King said to laughs from several dozen family members, supporters and friends about 30 minutes later. “Last time I said that, I found myself married.”
Less than a year ago, King wouldn’t have imagined being called “Senator King.” The former two-term governor has said he had no intention of re-entering political life.
But longtime Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe announced her retirement on Feb. 28. And 10 months and a $3 million campaign later, King became the first independent from Maine to be sworn into the U.S. Senate.
Several dozen of King’s family members, campaign staffers and personal friends — including actor Sam Waterston — watched him take the oath or crammed into a Capitol conference room with him afterward for refreshments.
At least four generations of King’s family then gathered around Biden for a picture in the Old Senate Chamber, after a second swearing-in ceremony re-enacted for family members and the media.
It was a day when Republicans, Democrats and a handful of independents enthusiastically shook hands and slapped each other on the back, at the start of a new Congress. Of course, the glow isn’t expected to last long.
Fresh off the fight over the fiscal cliff, Congress faces battles over issues such as the national debt, deep spending cuts, entitlement reform and whether to change the Senate filibuster. And that’s just the agenda for the next two to three months.
In typical King style, Maine’s new senator offered his supporters and family members a more lighthearted take on what awaits Congress.
“I thanked all of the current senators for not solving all of the problems, for saving some,” King said. “They said they were going to but they knew I was coming.”
It’s an open question how much influence King will have as a freshman in a tradition-bound chamber where seniority rules. King is replacing Snowe, a moderate Republican and a 34-year veteran of Congress who was well respected for her policy expertise and willingness to work across party lines.
King has vowed to maintain his independence even as he caucuses with the Democrats, the majority party. He also has an impressive list of committee assignments for a freshman, on the Budget, Armed Services, Intelligence and Rules committees.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins learned Thursday that she will move to the Intelligence Committee, on which Snowe served.
Republican caucus rules prevented her from serving another term on the Homeland Security Committee, which she had served on since its creation.
Collins is giving up her seat on the Armed Services Committee to make way for King. She continues to serve on the Appropriations Committee and the Special Committee on Aging.
One of King’s earliest tests could come during the debate over filibuster reform, which is expected later this month. Advocates for reform say Republicans have abused the filibuster in recent years, essentially blocking progress by requiring 60 votes to proceed on issues.
Various proposals are circulating, and Senate leaders on both sides are reportedly discussing a compromise.
King declined to endorse any one proposal Thursday but said he supports restricting the filibuster to final votes and some variation of “the talking filibuster” to prevent the weeks-long, speechless filibusters that are waged now.
Asked whether he has concerns about fitting in with the two-party system, King said he was greeted warmly by leaders from both parties Thursday. And he noted a theme of his successful campaign: that Congress needs fixing.
“My philosophy is, you’ve got to try,” King said. “It’s like the turtle trying to cross Route 1. In order to cross Route 1, he’s got to stick his neck out. And that’s what I’ve done.”
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:
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