- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

The most prominent new Senate Democrat was sworn in yesterday as her husband who happens to be the president beamed from the gallery above, while the top new Senate Republican broke in his temporary office by tossing around a football.

One was surrounded by the most prominent senators of what members call "the greatest deliberative body in the world," while the other shuffled through the deserted hallways in his cowboy boots hunting for discarded furniture.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Virginia Gov. George F. Allen were among the 11 new members of the Senate, and the two could not have approached the ceremony more differently.

The pomp surrounding Mrs. Clinton and her huge entourage made her the focus of the day for media and spectators and even other senators as she became the only first lady ever to win a Senate seat.

President Clinton and daughter Chelsea grasped each other's hands in the Senate spouses' gallery yesterday as Mrs. Clinton was called to be sworn in as New York's junior Democratic senator.

Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina quickly added levity to the historic moment.

"Can I hug you?" he roared to Mrs. Clinton after Vice President Al Gore, the Senate's president, administered the oath before the 100-member Senate and overflowing spectator galleries.

The 98-year-old Republican brought down the house as the first lady walked by, giving her a full embrace with both hands on her hips to peals of laughter from the galleries. The president laughed as well.

"The Senate will come to order," the vice president intoned as Mrs. Clinton regained her composure and the next group of four senators was called for the oath.

It was the only time as the new senators and 23 re-elected lawmakers were sworn in that Mr. Gore had to gavel the chamber back to order.

Mr. Clinton and Chelsea walked into the gallery exactly five minutes before the noon ceremony began, shaking hands with family members of other senators and signing a few autographs as they waited in the front row overlooking the Senate chamber.

After the ceremony, the president smiled proudly and clasped his daughter's hand. Afterward, when asked to describe his mood, he replied, "Ecstatic."

"It's a great day," he said, sporting a tiny campaign button on his lapel that read "Hillary."

Mrs. Clinton wore a dark aqua pantsuit and ivory pumps. She took a center aisle seat next to Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana at the back of the Democratic side of the chamber, where she was greeted by dozens of well-wishing senators from both parties throughout the 45-minute ceremony.

The first lady had animated conversation with Mr. Breaux and joked with Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, during the proceedings. But she did not exchange glances or gestures with the president, who was pensive throughout much of the session.

During part of the ceremony, Mrs. Clinton stood at the back of the Senate chamber conversing with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. She also warmly greeted the committee's senior Republican, Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who came by to shake her hand.

"It sank in today, and it felt great," Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she went to a post-ceremony party on Capitol Hill, funded by her campaign committee and attended by an estimated 1,000 supporters. "I'm just in awe of being in the chamber and sitting there, and it just made me feel like it was so right. I can't wait to get to work."

On the other side of the aisle, Mr. Allen's swearing-in which took place before the first lady's did not draw the same interest. For the new Republican senator, that was just fine with him.

"I'm going to try to keep my common-sense views where you don't get too tied up in all of the procedures but again try to look at things based on their merits, objectively, and keep my independent sense of things," said Mr. Allen, wearing his trademark cowboy boots.

His laid-back, under-the-radar style was on display throughout the day.

"You've got to break the office in," he said, sounding out the ceilings in his new office with the football, giving dozens of interviews and receiving more than 1,000 supporters at a reception.

But as soon as his last guest left, the new senator dug into his plug of chewing tobacco and planted a wad in his mouth.

Mr. Allen will get his permanent office in a few months, but for now his temporary office is bare. Yesterday, he and his chief of staff, Jay Timmons, in keeping with Mr. Allen's tradition of frugality, paused in the tunnels underneath one of the Senate office buildings to scout some promising pieces of furniture discarded from another office.

On his quest through the empty hallways, the son of the former coach for the Washington Redskins tossed around a football with the television cameramen interviewing his in-laws, occasionally throwing the ball to family, friends, staffers and anybody who was "open."

In the middle of it all, he found time to be sworn in to office twice.

Just after noon, he was part of the first group of four senators to take the oath of office, administered by Mr. Gore, who is president of the Senate until the next administration is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Then, a little after 2 p.m., Mr. Allen and the vice president re-enacted the scene in the Old Senate Chamber so photographers and television stations could get their images.

Mr. Allen, a Republican, said he brings a lot of Virginia with him in spirit and in "stuff."

While he was being sworn in, he held a Bible given to him by the Virginia General Assembly on his inauguration in 1994 as governor.

Mr. Allen, who defeated Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb in November, was shepherded through the early part of the day by Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia's senior Republican senator.

They were the first in the Senate chamber at 11:25 a.m., when Mr. Warner showed Mr. Allen how he would walk down to be sworn in and where he would sit. For the ceremony, he had a plum seat directly behind Trent Lott, the Senate minority leader for the next 16 days.

He got to work right away, asking the Congressional Budget Office for estimates of the cost of his proposed $1,000-per-child tax credit to help pay for education supplies, which was the legislative centerpiece of his campaign.

"There's a responsibility not just to be a puppet, but to be a leader, and I didn't come up here just to be a stump and to just warm a seat. I came up here to get ideas accomplished for the people of Virginia and America," Mr. Allen said.

Mr. Allen even had a chance meeting with Mr. Clinton. The president walked behind Mr. Allen and his wife, Susan, as they were holding an impromptu press session outside the chamber, and Mr. Allen turned around to shake hands with the president.

Mr. Clinton said he had just met Mr. Allen's children, and Mr. Allen told the president he soon would have the same job as Mrs. Allen spouse of a senator.

"That's right," Mr. Clinton joked back. "I want to do something useful."


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