On Wednesday morning, Congress’ first day in session in 2018, two new Democrats were sworn in to the Senate, bringing Republicans’ majority to a razor-thin 51 to 49.
Alabama’s Doug Jones, after winning an upset special election in December over Republican nominee Roy Moore, becomes the first Democrat in decades to represent his state in the upper chamber, taking the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and temporarily held by appointee Luther Strange.
Minnesota’s former Democratic Lt. Gov. Tina Smith was also sworn in Wednesday, taking the seat vacated by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who resigned in December following multiple accusations of groping and other forms of sexual misconduct.
Accompanied by his family and a grinning former Vice President Joe Biden, who campaigned on his behalf in Alabama, Jones took the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence. Having Biden accompany him to the swearing-in was a breach of tradition, as new senators are usually walked to the ceremony by their fellow state senators. Smith, keeping the tradition, was accompanied by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
On issues ranging from voting rights to immigration to health care, Jones could not be more different than Sessions—a hardliner considered to be on the far right fringe before his views were adopted and elevated by the Trump administration.
Though as a first-time officeholder Jones has no voting record, he staked out progressive positions on the campaign trail and has worked to demonstrate his commitment to them since the election. This week, he became the only Senate Democrat with an African-American chief of staff. He says his top priority is passing a long-term reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which Congress allowed to lapse in September and will lapse again later this year without a new bill.