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SENATORS: With liberty and justice for all.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senators arrived in the chamber this morning well before the scheduled 11:00 start. They came to witness the official and historic changeover of majority rule from the Republicans to the Democrats.
SPOKESMAN: The Majority Leader…
KWAME HOLMAN: Though he held the job briefly in January, this was the first time Tom Daschle of South Dakota– 16 years in the Senate– truly could be called Majority Leader. It’s a title he earned at midnight, when Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont officially left the Republican Party and became an independent. With Democrats now in the majority, Daschle’s first task was to install a new President pro tempore.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I send a resolution to the desk and ask for its immediate consideration.
SPOKESMAN: All those in favor say aye. Those opposed know the ayes appear to have it; the ayes do have it; the resolution is agreed to.
KWAME HOLMAN: Robert Byrd, in his eighth Senate term, replaced 98- year-old Republican Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who held the post during the last six-and-a-half years of Republican majority control. The position mostly is ceremonial, but it puts Byrd, now 83, third in line of succession to the presidency.
SPOKESMAN: Do you, Senator Robert Byrd, solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you’re about to enter, so help you God?
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: So help me God, I do. ( Applause )
KWAME HOLMAN: As members and staffers rose to applaud Senator Byrd, the new Majority Leader thanked both senior Senators. Daschle then spoke in praise of Vermont’s Jim Jeffords.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Last week I was deeply touched by Senator Jeffords’ courageous decision, his eloquent words. The Senator from Vermont has always commanded bipartisan respect because of the work that he does. Regardless of where he sits in this chamber, that is work, which will continue, and America will be better for it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Daschle went on to describe his vision for the Senate.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Republicans and Democrats come to this floor with different philosophies, different agendas. We believe in the power of ideas together– Republicans and Democrats. We believe in fashioning those ideas into sound public policy– Republicans and Democrats.
KWAME HOLMAN: For Mississippi Republican Trent Lott, today ended a five-year stint as Majority Leader. Now the leader of the minority party, Lott promised Daschle cooperation.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: I know that Senator Daschle will find sometime that the weight of this job will be as heavy as the weight of Atlas when he carried the earth on his shoulders, and I hope that on occasion I can help make that weight a little lighter. Of course, at one point, Atlas tricked Hercules and dumped off that burden off on Hercules. But later on, another trick was employed and Atlas wound up with this weight back on him as he was fated to do. Now, what is the moral of that story? (Laughter) The moral is this job will be tough. We’re all going to try to make it bearable and easier for you, and of course I’m hoping someday the weight will come back where it was fated to be. (Laughter)
KWAME HOLMAN: And Lott closed with these remarks.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: It’s not about personalities. I still believe that government is about ideas. It’s about issues. So it’s not really that important, what role we serve in. What is important is what we do for the people that we serve, what legacy will we leave for the next generation. I believe we can get it done. We got a lot of work to do. Let’s get started. And I again pledge to you my support and cooperation, Senator Daschle. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Shortly after the ceremonial transfer of power, it was back to business. Majority Leader Daschle called for resuming debate on the President’s education bill. Daschle said he hopes the Senate will complete the bill by next week.