Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday turned himself into a one-man welcoming committee for the newly elected senators in the way only Biden could accomplish.
“Spread your legs, you’re gonna be frisked!” Biden quipped to the husband of freshman Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota after photographers capturing the reenacted swearing in asked him to drop his hands for the photo. Heitkamp, a Democrat dressed in a red power suit, broke her pose to stare at Biden as she burst into laughter.
"You say that to somebody in North Dakota they think it's a frisk. They think you're in trouble right?" Biden asked.
It was the Biden show in the Old Senate Chamber Thursday where members and their guests reenacted the official swearing in conducted earlier in the day on the Senate floor.
“If you need any help on your pecs, let me know,” Biden told a rather-built guest of South Carolina Republican Tim Scott who was identified by the senator as a command sergeant major in the Army.
Biden, a 36-year Senate veteran known for speaking off-the-cuff, was a star attraction on a day where jokes and lightheartedness reigned along with formalities and serious moments.
The highlight for many senators on the first day of the 113th Congress was the triumphant return of Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, who returned for the first time following a year of recovery from a massive stroke. The senator re-learned how to walk following intensive rehabilitation.
Thursday, he drew a crowd of hundreds as he climbed the Capitol steps.
The Senate chaplain opened the session by thanking God for bringing “our Mark Kirk back to work in these hallowed halls."
Roaming those halls for the first time Thursday were 13 new senators, including Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who ousted Republican Scott Brown in November. Before Warren walked the aisle to be sworn in, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) stopped to attach a new member pin to Warren’s lapel. The two women embraced.
Scott, appointed to fill out the term of Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who stepped down to head the Heritage Foundation, received handshakes, backslaps and congratulations from many members on the Senate floor before his swearing-in, including one unlikely encounter. As Scott walked the aisle, flanked by DeMint and the state's other senator, Lindsey Graham, the conservative Scott was stopped by liberal Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) for a handshake.
Backslaps and handshakes, hugs and high-fives (yes you, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker) were exchanged by many in what seemed more akin to a gathering of old buddies than a formal ceremony.
Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu (D-La.) approached incoming Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono on the Senate floor to speak her. New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez embraced Warren.
It was a new experience for the 13 freshman, but even some experienced members seemed to be participating in the biannual pomp and circumstance for the first time. Arizona Sen. John McCain failed to stand with his group to be sworn in and had to be corralled by his waiting colleagues. McCain chuckled as he ran to position and buttoned up his suit jacket.
With no time to waste, experienced senators were already talking up their ability to whip votes from the freshman Thursday.
“You always have this infusion of new energy with new senators coming in,” Sen. Mark Udall (D-N.M.) said at a press conference where he once again championed filibuster reform. “They are very honed in on this, they want to get something done."
For now and for the remaining days until votes are cast, freshmen senators are sticking to getting their offices set up and staffed, email working and figuring out where to go.
"Come this way," an aide directed freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as they made their way to the members-only elevator following his swearing-in.