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Newly Elected Senators Assess Priorities en Route to Capitol Hill

After Tuesday's election, a handful of newly elected U.S. senators will help reshape the Congress. Senators-elect Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. assess their goals and what influence they will have on the 111th Congress.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The Senate will have at least eight new faces when it convenes next January. Six are Democrats; two are Republicans.

    The Democratic winners all took Republican seats, expanding their Senate majority to at least 57.

    We extended invitations to all eight newly elected senators, and three of them join us now.

    Republican Jim Risch is with us from Boise, Idaho. Currently Idaho's lieutenant governor, he won the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Larry Craig.

    Democrat Mark Udall is in Denver, Colo. Now a congressman, he'll replace retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard.

    And Democrat Jeff Merkley joins us from Portland, Ore. The speaker of the Oregon House, he was declared the winner of his race against Republican Gordon Smith just hours ago.

    And welcome to you all, and congratulations.

    JEFF MERKLEY (D), Senator-elect, Oregon: It's tremendous to be with you.

    MARK UDALL (D), Senator-elect, Colorado: Thank you to have us on here.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So, Speaker Merkley, let's begin with you. Your victory, as we said, is just hours old. How does it feel?

  • JEFF MERKLEY:

    Well, it feels tremendous. It's been a 16-month journey of presenting competing visions of where our nation goes. And I think the message that our nation is off track and Oregon needs to be part of putting it back on track got through. And I'm so glad to be a senator-elect.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So what message do you think the voters of Oregon were sending, in terms of what they expect from you, when they not only went Democratic for president, as they did in 2004, but ousted a Republican and put you in?

  • JEFF MERKLEY:

    I think they're expecting us to focus on issues that families are facing around the kitchen table. Certainly, issues of the cost of health care, the creation of living wage jobs, investment in education.

    And I also think that they want us to respond to the tremendous price pressures they're feeling on things like oil, like the cost at the pump.

    We have an energy policy that's been great if you're an oil company and terrible if you're an American citizen. And we have to change that, end our dependence on foreign oil, and stop sending $2 billion a day overseas, and start tackling global warming.

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