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Senate confirms Biden’s first cabinet pick, shifts to Democratic control

WASHINGTON (AP) – Three new senators were sworn into office Wednesday (Jan. 20) after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, securing the majority for Democrats.

In a first vote, the Senate confirmed Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines. Senators worked into the evening to approve his first Cabinet member, in what’s traditionally a show of good faith on Inauguration Day to confirm at least some nominees for a new president’s administration.

Haines, a former CIA deputy director, will become a core member of Biden’s security team, overseeing the agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community. She was confirmed 84-10.

Vice President Kamala Harris drew applause as she entered the chamber to deliver the oath of office to the new Democratic senators — Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla — just hours after taking her own oath at the Capitol alongside Biden.

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The three Democrats join a Senate narrowly split 50-50 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Ossoff, a former congressional aide and investigative journalist, and Warnock, a pastor from the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Atlanta, won run-off elections in Georgia this month, defeating two Republicans. Padilla was tapped by California’s governor to finish the remainder of Harris’ term.

Taken together, their arrival gives Democrats for the first time in a decade control of the Senate, the House and the White House.

Haines’ nomination was temporarily blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., as he sought information about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is holding back the Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas over Biden’s proposed immigration changes.

And Republican leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats unless they agree to preserve the Senate filibuster — the procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation.

McConnell, in his first speech as the minority party leader, said the election results with narrow Democratic control of the House and Senate showed that Americans “intentionally entrusted both political parties with significant power.”

The Republican leader said he looked forward working with the new president “wherever possible.”

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At her first White House briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s desire to have his Cabinet confirmed and in place is “front and center for the president,” and she said he was hoping to have his national security nominees in place Thursday or Friday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to soon transmit to the Senate a House-passed article of impeachment against former President Trump, charged with incitement of insurrection, a step that will launch the Senate impeachment trial.

Progressive and liberal Democrats are eager to do away with the filibuster to more quickly advance Biden’s priorities, but not all rank-and-file Senate Democrats are on board. Schumer has not agreed to any changes but McConnell is taking no chances.

For now, it will take unanimous consent among senators to toggle between conducting votes on legislative business and serving as jurors in the impeachment trial.


From The Associated Press. May not be republished. AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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