KWAME HOLMAN: Moments after high noon, the Senate and the House of Representatives convened simultaneously to launch the 107th Congress. In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats each will hold 50 seats. That's the result of Democrats having scored Election Day victories in several tight races, yielding them a gain of four seats.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: The majority leader, Senator Daschle, is recognized.
KWAME HOLMAN: But because the new Bush administration won't take office until January 20, Senate Democrats will be in the majority for the next 17 days, making South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle temporary majority leader. Vice President Al Gore represents the tie-breaking vote for the Democrats in the role of President of the Senate. He presided over the ceremonial session today.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: It is a high honor to have the privilege of officially opening this Senate. When i first ran for Democratic leader six years ago, I thought if i won, I would be majority leader. I must confess that in six years as minority leader, I had a moment or two when i wondered whether that day would ever arrive. But I assure you i intend to savor every one of the next 17 days.
KWAME HOLMAN: Daschle's majority leader status is little more than symbolic. He vowed Democrats will work with Republicans once the Bush administration takes over and hands the Senate tie-breaking power to the Republicans.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The writer Thomas Wolfe said that America is a place where miracles not only happen, they happen all the time. Today we experience one of those miracles: The peaceful transition of power from one Congress to the other. Some people say that it will take another miracle for this Congress and administration to find a way to work together. As we begin this historic Congress, let us resolve that we will work in good faith with each other to do the people's business. That is our pledge from this side of the aisle.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mississippi Republican Trent Lott will resume his duties as majority leader shortly. As he took his turn to speak today, he acknowledged the Vice President.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: I want to extend also the appreciation of the Senate and the grateful nation to the presiding officer, the Vice President of the United States, for the service that he has given to our country. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Lott and Daschle remain locked in negotiations over how the parties will share power in the evenly divided Senate. Lott acknowledged the outcome is unlikely to please everyone.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: We are showing here today, and I hope we'll show during the next 17 days and more importantly during the months beyond that, that we will always find a way to work together. It is quite often not easy to find consensus, as is forced upon us quite often in the Senate, but we must strive for it and quite often Senator Daschle and I do our very best to find a logical solution to a problem or an agreement, and we have 98 other Senators that may not agree with what we can come up with, but we will continue to work together to make this great republic the best, the most outstanding the minds of men have ever created to work as it should.
KWAME HOLMAN: Vice President Gore then undertook one of last official acts of his dual role. As he has several times since taking office, he swore in the newly elected members of the Senate. The freshmen and incumbents filed up in alphabetical groups of four. The third group included the only First Lady to be elected to public office: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator from New York.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Would you raise your right hand, please? Do you 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 faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?
GROUP: I do.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Congratulations. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Senator Clinton is one of 11 new Senators. Four of them are women. That brings the number of women in the Senate to 13, the most ever. Among the new women, all Democrats, are Maria Cantwell from Washington State on the left, and Jean Carnahan from Missouri, who was appointed to the seat won by her late husband, Governor Mel Carnahan. Freshman Republicans include a former House member from Nevada, James Ensign, who captured the seat vacated by retired Democrat Richard Bryan; and former Virginia Governor George Allen, who defeated Democratic incumbent Charles Robb. In a poignant moment, the Vice President swore in his running mate from his presidential campaign, Connecticut's Joe Lieberman. Meanwhile, at the other end of the Capitol Building, the atmosphere was less formal. The rules in the House on this ceremonial first day allow family and friends to wander around the floor, occasionally outnumbering elected members. Republicans retained the majority control of the House they won in 1994, marking the first time since the 1920s they've held the House for four consecutive sessions. But the Republicans' margin also has diminished every election since 1994. There now are 221 Republicans, 211 Democrats, two independents, and one vacancy. Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert was reelected Speaker of the 107th Congress on the strength of that slim majority. Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt greeted Hastert at the Speaker's chair with both a pledge of cooperation and an acknowledgment of a nearly evenly divided House and Senate.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I hope the closeness of the margin between our parties in the Congress will be viewed as an opportunity, not a hindrance. This is the people's House, and we're all proud to be part of it. It's not a Republican House. It's not a Democratic House. As recognition of that principle, it is our hope that in gestures both large and small on the part of each of us as individuals and as leaders, we will make that principle a daily reality.
KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker Hastert told his colleagues it was time to go to work, and put aside any bad feelings resulting from the presidential election.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Many have commented about the deep wounds caused by this latest political competition, but it serves no purpose to dwell on the past. After all, our country is at peace, our economy is still fundamentally strong, our people are united with a strength of purpose and by a desire to live the American dream. It's only in Washington where many still have a lingering animosity of the political parties. My friends, we need to get over it. Our new President was elected on an agenda to promote prosperity, opportunity, and security for all Americans. We have a duty to consider his agenda and to help him lead America this next Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: Hastert said he will submit, as the first bill of the new House, President-elect George W. Bush's education bill. He also said Social Security and Medicare reform, higher defense spending, and tax relief will be priorities in the House. With their ceremonies out of the way, both Houses will adjourn. Most of the 107th Congress will return to Washington by January 20, inauguration day for George W. Bush.