New senator Scott Brown sure gets down to Republican business

By Dana Milbank
Friday, February 5, 2010; A02

Great. Here comes one more model prone to sudden acceleration.

Another Toyota? Actually, no. This one is Scott Brown, as of Thursday the junior senator from Massachusetts.

Brown, the surprise victor in last month's special election, had raised no objection to taking his oath of office on Feb. 11. But then conservative commentators complained that he was dilly-dallying; the Boston Herald's Howie Carr accused him on Wednesday of taking "a three-week victory lap."

So, in one of his first major decisions since winning election, the Republican made his choice: He would cave in to his conservative critics. He requested -- no, demanded! -- that he be seated promptly -- no, immediately! -- so that he could start to do the important work of being a senator. Democratic Senate leaders complied with his demand (they even let him have Ted Kennedy's primo office suite), and Vice President Biden made time to swear in Brown on the Senate floor at 5 p.m. Thursday.

"It's really time to get to work," the new senator announced, certification papers in hand, as he got out of an SUV -- he left "the truck" at home -- outside the Russell Senate Office Building.

And so Brown got down to work. His first official act after taking the oath: holding a news conference. The Senate, having no business left to conduct, went into a quorum call. Senators had already taken their last vote of the week and most were hurrying out of town for three days ahead of the snowstorm.

Welcome to the Senate, Mr. Brown.

Brown's surprise victory impressed many people, none more than Brown himself. He went on ABC News's "This Week" on Sunday and declined to rule out a run for the presidency. "I don't have any exploratory committees started," he demurred. The host, Barbara Walters, also showed him the three-decade-old copy of Cosmo in which he posed nude. "Do I regret doing that?" Brown asked. "No."

Senator Centerfold's looks landed him in a "Saturday Night Live" skit over the weekend in which Brown, played by Jon Hamm, set off fantasies among Democratic leaders, and led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's character to exclaim, "Oooh, Mama like."

But they don't like the way he votes, so hours before Brown's arrival, Senate Democrats used their 60-vote majority one final time, breaking a Republican filibuster and confirming Patricia Smith to be solicitor in the Labor Department.

Still, the urgency requiring the hastily arranged swearing-in ceremony was something of a puzzle. Democrats had already agreed that their health-care reform bill was dead, so that couldn't explain it.

Was he rushing to town to vote against a jobs bill? That would be awkward, because Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, is a co-sponsor of one of its main provisions. He may have been in a hurry to block Obama's nominee to the National Labor Relations Board, but this was hardly top priority for Massachusetts voters.

Brown's flight from Boston arrived about 2:30 p.m., and he sped to the Senate building, where he was met by the Capitol's official greeting party: CNN's Dana Bash, Fox News's Trish Turner and a huge media scrum.

"Let's just step over a little bit and get everyone settled and we'll just do it the right way," the senator-elect told the mob. "Don't want anyone to get hurt."

"Just so you know, we're live here," Bash warned him.

"Oh, hi. Hi, everybody," he said to the TV audience.

An hour before Brown's swearing-in, Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.), the placeholder who had filled Kennedy's seat, gave his farewell on the Senate floor, an emotional appeal for "bipartisan comity." Eighteen Democratic senators stood and applauded. But Republicans let the majority know where they stood on the whole bipartisan comity thing: Not a single one of them came to hear Kirk's farewell.

At 5 p.m., 21 Republicans ushered Brown, carrying his two daughters' bibles, out of the cloakroom and onto the floor, where eight Democratic senators and a trio of Democratic congressmen were good enough sports to participate in the swearing-in. Biden, who once teased Chief Justice John Roberts for bungling President Obama's oath of office, stumbled over the oath as he read it to Brown from a laminated card.

"You're in," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) told his new colleague.

A few minutes later, after his wife got a chance to admire his new Senate lapel pin, Brown entered the jammed TV studio in a hail of camera flashes. Senator Centerfold laid out his positions. How might he work with Democrats? "I need to see what issues are coming up." His stance on gays in the military? "I want to speak to the generals in the field." A filibuster of the labor board nominee? "I'm going to look at everybody's qualifications." The jobs legislation? "I need to see what's in the bill."

The one declarative position Brown did take -- "The last stimulus bill didn't create one new job" -- was demonstrably untrue.

The self-styled "independent" senator spent the rest of the session repeating GOP talking points about tax cuts for all, going "back to the drawing board" on health-care reform, and being "the 41st vote" to sustain filibusters.

Among reporters in the room, the judgment was widely shared: Brown will fit right in.

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