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Historic Firsts As United States 107th Congress Convenes

Hillary ClintonThe 107th United States Congress convened today following last November’s elections. In a series of ceremonies, a number of intriguing and historical situations have now unfolded.

With Hillary Clinton’s swearing in as the junior senator from New York, this is the first time an incumbent First Lady has also served as an elected representative. President Bill Clinton attended the swearing-in ceremony in the Senate chamber.

As Vice-President, Al Gore also serves as President of the Senate. He has a casting vote in the event of a tie. There are now 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans in the Senate. Gore’s casting vote means that the Democrats will hold a majority for 17 days until George W. Bush is sworn in as President on January 20. On this day, the new Vice-President, Dick Cheney, will assume Gore’s role in the Senate, swinging the balance of power back to the Republicans.

This is the first time since the 1920s that the Republican Party has retained control of both houses of the Congress for 4 consecutive two-year terms. They gained control at the 1994 mid-term elections. The Republicans have 221 seats in the House of Representatives, the Democrats have 211, there are 2 independents and there is one vacancy due to the death of a Democratic member, Julian Dixon of California, after the election.

This is also the first time since January 1955 that the Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.

Not since 1952 have the two chambers been so closely divided. Back then, in the 83rd Congress, the Republicans held a 221-213 majority in the House, with one independent, and controlled the Senate 48-47 with a pro-Republican indepdendent.

Both houses of Congress will meet on Saturday to ceremonially accept the votes of the Electoral College. This will be presided over by Al Gore, again in his capacity as President of the Senate, giving the Vice-President the dubious honour of formalising his own defeat in the presidential election, despite winning the popular vote by over 500,000 votes.

With the election of 4 new women members of the Senate – Hillary Clinton from New York, Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, Maria Cantwell from Washington and Jean Carnahan from Missouri – there will be a record 13 women in the 100-member Senate. Each State is entitled to two senators.

In another first, Jean Carnahan has been appointed senator by the Governor of Missouri, following an election in which her dead husband, then the Governor, defeated the incumbent senator, John Ashcroft. Mel Carnahan was killed in a place crash in October, but it was too late under Missouri electoral law to remove his name from the ballot paper. He won the election anyway. Ashcroft has since been nominated by Bush as the new United States Attorney-General, but will face a spirited confirmation hearing in the Senate.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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