Three men stood side by side, all making history: one the first Black senator from Georgia, one the first Jewish senator from Georgia and one the first Latino senator from California.
Standing before them, clad in unity purple, was America’s first female Vice President.
A few seconds later, hands aloft, Senators Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) became official members of the body, shifting the Senate’s composition to 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.
“Congratulations,” Vice President Kamala Harris said as the chamber broke into applause.
Padilla’s appointment by California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) made for a lighthearted moment just before the swearing in, as Harris laughed at having to refer to herself in the third person.
VP Harris laughs after reading out the official announcement that Alex Padilla will be filling the seat she vacated, having to spell out her full name in the third person. pic.twitter.com/Fhw9CVHnZ7
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) January 20, 2021
The two Georgia senators made their way to the chamber by a more traditional, though decidedly uphill, route.
In an election perhaps even more shocking than President Joe Biden’s defeat of an incumbent president, Warnock and Ossoff bucked history and Democrats’ dismal runoff record in Georgia, ousting two incumbent senators.
Those victories were critical. Democratic senatorial candidates fared poorly on November 3, with only Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO) winning out of a handful of seats that seemed gettable. That left the margins extremely slim: 50 Republicans to 48 Democrats.
Ossoff and Warnock kept Democratic hope alive in November by pushing their races to a runoff round. Ossoff did so by a fingernail, sinking former Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) to 49.7 percent.
The next two months were war in Georgia, as the state was flooded with money and advertising, much of it negative. Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) in particular has been criticized for the overt racism in her attempts to paint Warnock as a dangerous radical. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was trying every possible gambit to steal the November election, including in the state where the runoffs were playing out.
With basically no polling in the state, how the races would end was anyone’s guess.
But there was less mystery on election night itself. Warnock pulled into an early, indomitable lead, putting his race to bed in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Ossoff and Perdue were closer, the counting stretching into Wednesday. While election workers were tallying ballots in Georgia, a mob was breaching the Capitol building, sending lawmakers into hiding as the pro-Trump insurrectionists sought to stop the Electoral College certification of Biden’s win.
Ossoff’s win was called as the chaos unfolded. A member of his campaign called the experience “surreal.”
Now, the dust has settled. Windows splintered with bullet holes have been repaired at the Capitol, the new workplace of these freshmen senators. The violent, anti-democracy mob has been replaced by three people representing populations of their states who have never seen themselves reflected in their senators before.
“Change has come to Georgia,” Ossoff tweeted alongside a picture of him and Warnock. “Change is coming to America.”