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New Faces, Old Challenges as 113th Congress Convenes

January 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
New lawmakers are arriving on Capitol Hill, but the 113th Congress won't be starting with a clean slate. Judy Woodruff reports on unfinished business and challenges ahead for Congress and House Speaker John Boehner.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: On this third day of the New Year, the U.S. Congress officially reconvened for the 113th time, bringing a new set of faces to join those already in place and a familiar set of issues, with the prospect of more battles over taxes, spending and deficits.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: If the senators to be sworn will now present themselves at the desk.

JUDY WOODRUFF: High noon was swearing-in time in the Senate today. Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as Senate president, administered the oath of office to the freshmen and reelected members.

JOSEPH BIDEN: Do you so solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic?

JUDY WOODRUFF: The ceremony came just hours after the old Congress worked down to the wire, passing the fiscal cliff legislation. and President Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, signed the bill into law on Wednesday. On the Senate floor today, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, took note of the week’s events.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: I would like to welcome everybody back after what we all realize was a somewhat abbreviated recess.

JUDY WOODRUFF: McConnell’s minority will be smaller still in the new Senate. Democrats now have 53 seats to 45 Republicans, and two independents will caucus with the Democrats. In all, there are 12 newly elected senators: eight Democrats, three Republicans, and one independent, Angus King of Maine.

And five women won seats, bringing the total to 20, the most ever. Some other notables, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman. Both are Democrats.

On the Republican side, Ted Cruz of Texas becomes just the third senator of Hispanic heritage. And Tim Scott of South Carolina, appointed to fill the seat vacated by Jim DeMint, is the Senate’s only black member, and the first black Republican senator since 1979.

Freshmen on both sides will now join, in earnest, the fight over spending and taxes, as Majority Leader Reid made clear today.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: As we advance the debate over the best way to strengthen our economy and reduce our deficit during this Congress, the 113th, Democrats will continue to stand strong for the principle of balance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the House side, Republicans are still in control, albeit with fewer members, 233 to the Democrats’ 200. There will be 82 freshmen, 47 Democrats and 35 Republicans. As in the Senate, the House now has a record number of women, 81 in all.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held a photo-op today with the women of her Democratic Caucus. But the spotlight today was primarily on House Speaker John Boehner. He’s coming off bruising battles over the fiscal cliff bill within his own caucus and criticism for delaying a vote on Hurricane Sandy funding.

Boehner grew emotional as he addressed the chamber today.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve, if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people, if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not by our constituents, but by the times, then you have come to the right place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, he won another two-year term as speaker with 220 votes. A dozen Republicans either voted against him, voted present, or abstained. With the voting over, the speaker swore in the new House.

JOHN BOEHNER: Congratulations. You are now members of the 113th Congress!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the first orders of business will come tomorrow, a vote on the first installment of Sandy aid. Then, there’s a full plate of challenges left by the last Congress. Within the next two months, the lawmakers will again face the prospect of automatic spending cuts and the need to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.