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July 24, 2014

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Democrats find 60-vote majority in Senate gone in a flash

Reid back to trolling for one vote from GOP

Image

Susan Walsh / AP

Vice President Joe Biden, right, reenacts the swearing in of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., left, as Brown’s wife, Gail Huff, holds the family Bibles in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill. Earlier on Thursday, Brown was sworn in on the floor of the Senate.

Click to enlarge photo

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday following his swearing in.

Here is how the Democrats’ 60-vote majority in the Senate came to an end.

No election night confetti. No balloons. Just Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts standing at the back of the Senate chamber ready to take his place as the 41st Republican.

At 5:10 p.m. EST Thursday, the former male model walked down the main aisle of the Senate, stopped before Vice President Joe Biden, raised his right hand and pledged to uphold the Constitution. By 5:12 p.m., it was done.

Polite applause from the Democratic side of the room, hearty clapping from Sen. John Ensign and his colleagues on the Republican side. The galleries packed with onlookers withholding their reactions, according to the rules.

Just like that, the 60-seat Democratic majority, which the chamber had not seen since 1977, was gone.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shook the new senator’s hand.

Sixty has become the number of senators needed to do business. It was not always the norm, but in this era of hyperpartisanship, when neither side wants to play nicely, it is the only way to overcome the opposition’s filibusters and pass legislation.

Brown took a spin around the press briefing room, telling reporters he had wanted to come to Washington earlier than planned (he was supposed to be sworn in next week) because “I want to get to work.”

He said voters are “fed up” with Washington, echoing the Tea Party populism that played so well on the campaign trail, but has a different ring on the third floor of the stately Senate wing of the nation’s Capitol. He said spending is out of control and the stimulus bill “didn’t create one new job” — an assertion even economists from his side of the aisle won’t make.

In coming days, Republicans want to stop one of the president’s labor nominees from being confirmed, but Brown insisted he had not been asked to vote a certain way. “There’s no hidden agenda,” Brown said.

Even during the heady days of the 2008 campaign, the prospect of hitting 60 votes was always a long shot for Democrats. But on election night, Reid watched from a Washington hotel room as his 51-seat majority swelled. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, then the party’s campaign chairman, kept bounding in the room with the latest victory.

Sixty was so close.

Last spring, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched parties, becoming No. 59. By summer, Minnesota finished counting ballots and comedian Al Franken became No. 60.

In some ways, 60 proved to be as elusive a majority as 51 had been the year before. Democrats had had one of the most productive legislative sessions before Franken arrived. And 60 didn’t guarantee victory as Democrats struggled to secure votes for their health care bill.

Yet when the Senate passed health care reform on Christmas Eve without a single Republican vote, the power of 60 was on display.

Within weeks Brown became a household name. The Republican had been driving his pickup truck around Massachusetts, rounding up votes for an upset victory to claim the seat held for nearly 50 years by Ted Kennedy, who died in August.

Asked Thursday if he could stomach being the crossover guy — the one vote Democrats need to pass a bill — Brown sidestepped the question and said he will vote for his state.

Reid now will go back to the days of dialing for votes, trying to find the one Republican willing to work with Democrats.

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