- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

Democrats Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and James H. Webb Jr. of Virginia were sworn in yesterday as their states’ junior senators.

Mr. Cardin called his move across Capitol Hill after 20 years in the House of Representatives “the end of one journey and the beginning of the next.”

He laid out a broad agenda in a speech to a crowd of supporters in the Dirksen Senate Office Building before he headed to the Senate chamber to take the oath of office from Vice President Dick Cheney.

Many of Mr. Cardin’s priorities were initiatives Democrats have vowed to pass quickly as they regained control of both the House and Senate for the first time since 1995, such as raising the minimum wage, ethics reform in Congress and reducing interest rates for student loans.

Mr. Webb, a one-time Republican who served as secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, was accompanied by former Sen. Charles S. Robb, a Democrat, and Virginia’s senior senator, Republican John W. Warner.

Mr. Webb took the seat for the party in a narrow win over Republican incumbent George Allen in November, putting Democrats over the top in capturing control of the Senate.

Mr. Webb’s wife, Hong Le Webb, held their infant daughter in the gallery during the swearing-in. Mr. Webb smiled and raised a ceremonial pen used in the event before tucking it into his coat pocket for safekeeping.

Later in the day, Mr. Webb began his Senate career by introducing a bill to expand veterans benefits. His bill would give veterans the same educational benefits provided to service members at the end of World War II.

Mr. Cardin called for more public transit, embryonic stem-cell research funding and universal health coverage. He promised to press the issue of troop withdrawal in Iraq when he takes his seat next week on the Senate Foreign Service Committee. He also introduced his first bill yesterday, legislation dealing with Medicare.

Mr. Cardin beat Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele by a comfortable margin in November to win the seat of Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who retired after 30 years in office. Mr. Sarbanes appeared with Mr. Cardin on the podium yesterday, and Maryland’s other senator, Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski, escorted him to the Senate chamber.

An ebullient Mr. Cardin smiled broadly as he held up his hand to take the oath at the Senate rostrum. He met with reporters about 8 a.m. for a series of interviews, answering the same questions again and again after only a few hours of sleep the previous night. He had been up partying with his family and friends at a hotel.

“Ben Cardin, coming to you live from the United States Senate,” he said during a microphone check for a television interview.

He seems well aware of the rarity of the job. He repeated several times that he was just the 62nd Maryland senator and mentioned the first to hold his seat — Charles Carroll.

Others seemed to share the mood.

“What are we doing here?” joked Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of the Baltimore Beth Tfiloh Congregation, where Mr. Cardin worships. “Many of us have been with Ben on many occasions, but this time is very different. This is the United States Senate.”

AP writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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