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Smiles, handshakes on the Senate floor

By Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Ten minutes before the opening of the Senate on Wednesday morning, the new majority leader entered the chamber with a spring in his step and a look of giddy anticipation on his face.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, walked over to shake the hand of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, before the No.2 Democrat ascended the steps to preside over the opening of the Senate.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, walked onto the floor for the first time as minority leader and headed directly toward Daschle. The two huddled in quiet conversation for a few minutes.

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Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, the second Republican to enter the chamber and the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, walked in with the help of his cane and made his way directly to his seat without a word to anyone.

When Reid opened the Senate at 11 a.m., only 14 of the 100 senators -- 10 Democrats and four Republicans -- were there to witness the change of power, a first for a Congress already in session. More senators later came into the gallery.

Tourists jammed the Capitol hallways, and the lines to get into the galleries were longer than usual to enable them to get a glimpse of the historic event.

Meanwhile there was no sign of the man whose decision led to the unprecedented shift -- Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. It was his move to leave the GOP and become an independent that allowed the Democrats to claim a 50-49 edge in the Senate.

Hours earlier, Jeffords' desk was moved from the Republican side of the aisle and bolted down in the second row back on the Democratic side of the aisle.

The session opened with the pledge of allegiance and a prayer acknowledging the work of Lott and his second-in-command -- Sen. Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma -- as well as Daschle and Reid.

Then in a quick, business-like and matter-of-fact manner, the chair addressed Daschle for the first time by his new title -- majority leader.

The senators who were there offered their first round of applause and a standing ovation for the most senior Democrat, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, as he was made the new president pro-tempore, putting him third in line for the White House.

In order to honor the longest-serving and oldest senator in history, whom Byrd had just replaced, a resolution was offered that created a new position -- president pro tempore emeritus -- for 98 year-old Strom Thurmond, R-South Carolina.

When the new majority leader addressed his colleagues, 39 senators were on the floor in their seats. During Daschle's six-and-a-half minute speech, in which he promised to prove himself as a fair leader to his GOP colleagues, only 18 Republicans were there to listen.

Those Republicans, as well as 21 Democrats, then heard Lott's eight-and-a-half minute speech in which he spoke of his belief in a government of ideas, "not about personalities."

While most senators were attentive, some seemed not to be paying attention.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Montana, read the legislation on his desk. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, flipped through some press clips. Freshman Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, got up to fetch something to eat from the candy drawer in one of the back desks. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California also caught up on reading. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, passed notes to Reid and Daschle, and at one point walked across the aisle to talk to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah during Lott's speech.

Both Daschle and Lott got standing ovations after their speeches, and the two leaders shook hands.

When Lott concluded, Daschle steered the Senate back to the issue at hand -- the education bill -- and with that, senators began milling about, business as usual.








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