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Brown's Entry Ends Democrats' Supermajority

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown became a U.S. senator today. Vice President Joe Biden swore him in during a ceremony on the Senate floor.

Vice President JOE BIDEN: Will you please raise your right hand? Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies?

SIEGEL: Brown assumes the seat long held by a Democrat, the late senator Edward Kennedy. His GOP colleagues hailed his arrival, and their jubilation underscores a new reality for Senate Democrats. They no longer hold the 60 vote super majority needed to block Republican filibusters.

As NPRs David Welna reports, any controversial initiatives will now need at least some Republican support to pass.

DAVID WELNA: Even before Republican Scott Brown took the oath, Majority Leader Harry Reid was making overtures to his GOP colleagues to work with him rather than against him. This morning Reid seemed almost wistful about the possibility that the now indispensable Republicans might join forces with Democrats to cosponsor a new jobs bill.

Senator HARRY REID (Democratic, Nevada; Majority Leader): I would hope that we can continue to move forward for a change on a bipartisan basis. We're going to do that if we can. We say about jobs as we've said about health care, weve said about energy, weve said about everything we've worked on in the past year, we want to work with Republicans.

WELNA: But will Republicans want to work with Democrats? Former Louisiana Democratic Senator John Breaux thinks so. Breaux was well known for collaborating with GOP colleagues. He predicts that because Republicans now have the power to stop bills and nominations, theyll use it judiciously.

Senator JOHN BREAUX (Democrat, Louisiana, Former Senator): With numbers come responsibility and it's one thing if youre 60/40. I think its different when its 59/41. I think they have a greater responsibility to help find solutions to problems and not be against everything.

WELNA: The Senates number three Republican Lamar Alexander says there's no question his party will be able to mount filibusters more easily now. And he says they may well have to do so, but he'd prefer not to.

Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): Speaking for myself, I'd much rather be in a position where Im working with Senator Webb to double nuclear power. Whether Im working with Senator Carper to clean the air. Whether Im working with Arne Duncan to pay good teachers more for teaching well. Most members of our Caucus feel the same way.

Now, that we have 41 votes, maybe the administration will decide it wants too sit down and work with us in the middle rather than trying to say: We won the election, we'll write the bill.

WELNA: According to Georgetown University congressional expert Stephen Wayne, it behooves Senate Republicans this election year to show voters they can do more than just say no.

Professor STEPHEN WAYNE (Congressional Expert, Georgetown University): If all the Republicans can do is point to the legislation they prevented. I dont think thats a very sellable argument to most of the American electorate particularly to independent voters. Republicans have to stand for something beyond opposition.

WELNA: But another Congress watcher, George Washington Universitys Sarah Binder doubts Senate Republicans will change much the way theyve been voting.

Professor SARAH BINDER (George Washington University): Which is to really stick together on these major issues, particularly, as in the run up to congressional elections, the midterm elections. There seems to be both a policy incentive to disagree with the Democrats and a political partisan incentive to disagree with them.

WELNA: Senate Historian Don Ritchie says years ago it was normal that Republicans and Democrats would cross the aisle on key votes. He says its lately become normal that they dont.

Mr. DON RITCHIE (Senate Historian): The two parties are much more internally cohesive than they ever were before. The ideological spectrum inside the Democratic conference and inside the Republican conference is much narrower than it was before, and they tend to vote together.

WELNA: What everyone wants to know now is how the newest Senator will vote as he arrived on Capitol Hill this afternoon. Now, Senator Scott Brown was asked his position on what may be the Senates next controversial vote, President Obamas nomination of Craig Becker to sit on the National Labor Relations Board.

Senator SCOTT BROWN (Republican, Massachusetts): You know, Im an independent voter and thinker. I always have been. Im going to spend some time this weekend looking at everybodys qualifications, and Ill make my decision when, when I vote.

WELNA: Brown may be the 41st vote for Republicans but so far it seems he's making no commitments.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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