Democrat Senators Smith and Jones sworn in, trimming Republican majority
With Tina Smith officially joining, there are now an all-time high 22 women senators
The Republican majority in the Senate narrowed to 51-49 on Wednesday as two new Democratic senators were sworn into office, complicating Republicans' efforts to advance the party's legislative agenda before the 2018 mid-term elections.
Vice-President Mike Pence administered the oath of office to Doug Jones from Alabama and Tina Smith from Minnesota.
Jones is the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in a quarter-century. His victory over Republican Roy Moore shrinks the Republican majority, complicating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's efforts to move the GOP's agenda and President Donald Trump's nominees.
Smith, the former lieutenant-governor of Minnesota, was appointed to replace Al Franken following the Democrat's resignation over accusations of sexual misconduct. She becomes the 22nd woman currently serving in the Senate, a record.
Jones, 63, will represent one of the most conservative states in the nation and is stressing his desire to work with both parties. He will be under pressure to find some areas of agreement with Republicans and has cited the funding of infrastructure improvements as one possible avenue.
"I will be an independent voice and work to find common ground with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get Washington back on track and fight to make our country a better place for all," Jones said after defeating Republican Roy Moore in a special election rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore.
Jones will take the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Before the Senate seat belonged to Sessions, it belonged to the man Jones considered his mentor, Howell Heflin, the late senator. Jones worked for Heflin as a staffer after graduating from law school in 1979. Heflin was the last Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate.
Smith will face immediate challenge in 1st year
Jones said for that reason, Wednesday will feel something like a homecoming, bringing his career full circle. During the swearing-in, Jones will be wearing a pair of Heflin's cufflinks. Jones plans to place one of Heflin's cigar boxes in his office.
"To be able to have done the things I've done and end up back here is just a remarkable thing," Jones said. "I am looking forward to getting my feet wet and getting to know my colleagues and jumping into the action."
Jones said he is hopeful that he comes to the Senate with a "little bit of a voice" because of the attention on the Alabama race.
"There are a lot of people who didn't vote for me, and I hope they will keep an open mind because I am going to try to be the best senator I can for the state to try to move the state forward as a whole and not just one particular group or philosophy," he said.
Jones made it clear during the campaign that he was opposed to Republicans' efforts to repeal President Barack Obama's signature health-care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act. He said the efforts would drive up costs and lead to the closure of more rural health care facilities in the state. "That is a nonstarter," Jones said.
Smith, 59, served as chief of staff to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton before becoming his lieutenant-governor.
Smith is known largely as a liberal Democrat who has maintained connections to the state's large and politically powerful business community.
While Jones won his special election, Smith will have to contest a special election on Nov. 6, possibly against former Republican congresswoman and presidential contender Michele Bachmann.
All told, there were will be 34 Senate contests in 2018. Democrats are incumbents in 24 of those, not including Angus King (Maine) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont), who caucus with the Democrats. The 24 states include 10 which were carried by Trump in the 2016 general election.
The Republicans will field new candidates in at least three of the eight seats up for election that they currently hold, as Bob Corker (Tennessee), Jeff Flake (Arizona) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) have all announced they won't seek another term.