Outgoing and incoming Washington crossed paths on Capitol Hill Monday, as lawmakers-to-be trod the same hallways as the members of Congress they defeated, the Senate convened without President-elect Barack Obama, and a familiar face returned.
“It's good to be back in the Senate,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, who has been battling brain cancer for six months, told reporters as he arrived flanked by his wife, Vicki, and dogs Sunny and Splash.
Kennedy is a one-man confluence of governments past, present and future, his arrival an apt prelude to the final session of the 110th Congress.
The House and Senate are meeting this week for one last showdown with President George W. Bush over whether to rescue the troubled auto industry from sinking beneath the turbulent economy. The plan was headed for a stalemate even before the bill was introduced.
Beyond the stalled policy, Congress chugged to life for the first time since the Nov. 4 election that propelled two senators – Obama and running mate Joe Biden – to the White House and handed Democrats stronger House and Senate majorities.
Technically, the session convened the outgoing, or lame-duck, Congress. But from the opening of Senate business Monday, it was almost all about the election results and the Democrats who, come January, will run two of the government's three branches for the first time since 1994.
As members of the 110th Congress arrive for their last session, those who defeated some of them are attending orientations and joining lawmakers returning next year to choose their party leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada appeared briefly for the cameras with six incoming Democrats: Mark Warner of Virginia, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Udall of Colorado, his cousin Tom of New Mexico, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, eager to keep his caucus together to prevent Democrats from shutting business down with filibusters, called a photo opportunity with two Republicans replacing retiring Senators Jim Risch of Idaho and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
Across the Capitol, 50-odd House freshmen looked to the future, as well, with an orientation that covered the minutiae of being in Congress – how to hire a staff and set up an office, how to conform to ethics rules and what to do in a security situation.
Some of what Congress will look like and who will serve in it remains unclear.
Five races in the House and three in the Senate still have not been decided.
In one, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the longest-serving Republican in Congress, is struggling to hold off a challenge from two-term Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
But even if the Senate President Pro Tempore Emeritus, 85, wins a seventh Senate term, he's likely to be kicked out, according to leaders of his party. Stevens was convicted of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is something of a pariah among Democrats after endorsing Republican Sen. John McCain for president. Many Democratic senators want Lieberman stripped of his Homeland Security chairmanship and kicked out of their caucus.
Obama has weighed in on Lieberman's side.
And from a pragmatic standpoint, Democrats need Lieberman with them if they hope to shut down Republican filibusters.