Kirk Is Sworn Into Senate, as Kennedy Family Looks On
By Paul Kane
With one hand on a Bible, Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) was sworn in Friday afternoon to the Senate seat previously held for nearly five decades by Edward M. Kennedy.
"Congratulations, senator," Vice President Biden said to Kirk after completing the oath of office.
Friday's ceremony marked the final step in a month-long process set in motion by Kennedy's Aug. 25 death. And a number of Democratic luminaries, as well as Kennedy family members, showed up to watch Kirk -- a close family friend and former senior staffer to Kennedy in the 1970s -- recite the oath of office.
Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), stood at the Democratic leader's podium next to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
In the first row of the gallery sat Vicki Kennedy, the late senator's wife, who burst into tears and hugged Gail Kirk, the new senator's wife, upon Biden's salutation. Also sitting with the two spouses were Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Kara Kennedy, the late senator's other two children, along with their stepbrother, Curran Raclin.
Most of the late senator's staff will stay on with Kirk, and many of them sat on benches that ring the Senate floor to watch their new boss take the oath. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) ushered Kirk down the aisle to meet Biden, and the first senators to congratulate Kirk were Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Afterward, Kirk told reporters he was experiencing "a combination of emotions," including the "profound absence of a friend," but also a "full understanding of his devotion and understanding of public service."
Asked whether he would play a role in the health-care debate, Kirk said, "I hope I can. I'm aware that I'm the freshman in the class."
Outside the chamber, Kerry said that Kirk was prepared on the issue of health care. Asked whether Kirk would have the same influence Kennedy had on the issue, Kerry said "nobody around here -- with the possibility of the majority leader -- has that natural [influence.]"
Kerry, Biden and McCain were among those who spoke at the wake for the late Kennedy, which was held at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Kirk served as the master of ceremonies for the wake, and he has been chairman of the JFK Library Foundation for years. (The Associated Press has a quick look at Kirk's biography here.)
His appointment came after Massachusetts Democrats pushed through this week a new law that allowed Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to appoint an interim successor to Kennedy. State Republicans protested the move as a power play designed to give Senate Democrats an extra vote immediately, and pointed to the Democratic-led effort in 2004 to change the law then -- when Kerry was potentially going to win the presidency and create a Senate vacancy -- to strip the power of gubernatorial appointment because Republican Mitt Romney ruled Beacon Hill at the time.
The state GOP lost a court challenge Friday morning to block Kirk's seating, based on a Massachusetts law that said most laws take 90 days to take effect. Patrick declared an emergency to institute the law right away, and Senate Republicans declined to protest Kirk's seating, instead welcoming him with both arms.
In this odd year, Kirk becomes the sixth senator so far in 2009 to take his seat through appointment. And he's the fourth to agree to serve essentially as a caretaker, along with Sens. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and George LeMieux (R-Fla.). Burris had initially sought to run for a full term to succeed President Obama, but his involvement in the legal scandal of former governor Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) led to political problems and his decision to accept caretaker status until a permanent replacement is selected in November 2010.
On hand for Kirk's swearing-in, Burris joked with The Washington Post beforehand that so many new appointees have been sworn in since he took office Jan. 15, he has already climbed the seniority ladder in the chamber.
"I'm trying to figure that out now. I must be 92 or 93 now," he said.
In fact, Burris is now 95th in seniority. He could be considered the dean of the appointee caucus, with one more day of seniority than Kaufman.
September 25, 2009; 4:59 PM ET
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