The small town of Cheshire has fewer than 30,000 residents, but the community was standing tall Thursday when two residents stepped forward into major political positions in Washington, D.C. Democrat Christopher Murphy joined the U.S. Senate and former town council member Elizabeth Esty joined the U.S. House of Representatives on her first day as a member of Congress.
Both Murphy and Esty won hard-fought primaries and general elections this past year, and they represent the new faces of the seven-member Connecticut delegation.
The best part of the day, Murphy said, came during a ceremonial swearing in that was held with families after the traditional swearing-in on the U.S. Senate floor. Murphy’s immediate family had gathered, including his wife, two sons, nieces and nephews for the private ceremony with the vice president.
“Biden said to raise my right hand, and my one-year-old raised his hand,” Murphy said of his son, Rider. “It was so disarming that Biden stopped the oath halfway through because he was laughing so hard.’’
As her first order of business, Esty said she will be working on “a very important cluster of issues” on mental health and school safety because of the shootings of 20 students and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. She represents Newtown in the 5th Congressional District that stretches from Simsbury to Danbury to Salisbury.
“Vice President Biden called me the day after the tragedy and expressed his full support for whatever we needed after Newtown,” Esty said in a telephone interview from Washington.
Murphy, 39, has consistently been among the youngest members as he has joined four different chambers in his political career: state House of Representatives, state Senate, U.S. House, and now U.S. Senate.
Esty, 53, is the newest member of the House delegation, joining Democratic veterans Rosa DeLauro of New Haven and John Larson of East Hartford, as well as Joe Courtney, who won in 2006, and Jim Himes, who won in 2008.
In a note to supporters on Thursday morning, Murphy said he was humbled to be joining the Senate.
“This is quite a moment,” Murphy wrote. “I’m about to step onto the floor of the Senate to take the oath of office as Connecticut’s next United States Senator. I’m humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve the people of our state. For all the history, ceremony, and pageantry of this day, I am most in awe of the grassroots support I received from people in Connecticut and all across the country that sent me here to fight for all of us.”
He continued, “Thank you for all you’ve done to make today possible. When we began this campaign two years ago, I asked for your ideas for how we can continue to make our state and country better. I hope you’ll continue that during my time in the Senate. Now, let’s get to work.”
In the Senate, Murphy was sworn in by Vice President Joseph Biden at about 12:20 p.m. Thursday. Under the Senate tradition, members arrived at the front of the chamber in groups of four, accompanied by another senator. As such, Murphy arrived with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who is now Connecticut’s senior senator despite entering only his third year in the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid walked in with Murphy’s group, accompanying another colleague.
Wearing a blue tie, Murphy walked down the center aisle next to Blumenthal and soon after signed the historic Oath Book that contains the names of all U.S. Senators.
Biden asked Murphy and the other members of the group to raise their right hand and swear that they would ”support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” during their six-year terms.
Biden, who is known for various gaffes through the years, had his microphone still turned on for the cameras of C-SPAN 2, which broadcasts the Senate.
“Good to see you, man. How are you?” Biden said to an incoming member in comments that were picked up as he swore in the first group of new senators. After that, the microphones were turned off for such exchanges and could no longer be heard over the Internet.
The Senators took the oath in alphabetical order in the 113th Congress for the year 2013.
“It’s really been a thrill,” Murphy said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “For me, it was great to have Sen. Blumenthal walk me down the center aisle of the Senate. He was such a big part of the campaign, but he is also someone that my generation of public servants looks up to. It was really special to me to have Dick Blumenthal with me.”
As someone who has talked about bipartisanship in Washington, Murphy said his immediate outlook is not optimistic.
“To be honest, it’s not so good,” Murphy told Capitol Watch. ”The last couple of weeks down here have been a charade, ending up with the House Republicans refusing to take up Sandy relief. I didn’t love anything about the fiscal cliff deal, but I voted for it because it was the right thing to do for the economy. There will be a lot of ugly, tough votes to come.’’
He added, “I voted against some of these things in the past. My last couple of weeks in the House were discouraging because I thought one of the mandates of the last election was for the two parties to work together. It doesn’t seem like the Republicans in the House, at least, have learned many lessons. … For the first time, politics has been thrown into disaster relief, which results in a second victimization. The Republicans have been playing games with disaster relief for the last couple of years, but they have never followed through’’ to withhold funding.
On the bright side, he said, there is a possibility that the Sandy relief bill might be passed in the U.S. Senate on unanimous consent.
While Senators have six-year terms, the House members – with only two-year terms – are often seen as campaigning for the next term as soon as they are sworn into office.
In that vein, the National Republican Congressional Committee was already attacking Esty within hours of being sworn in by presenting her with an “official Nancy Pelosi Obedience School Lap Dog Kit.” In an email to reporters, the NRCC included an “official Lap Dog membership card” for Esty.
“Elizabeth Esty wasted no time showing her true colors by casting her first vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. She’s now a Nancy Pelosi lap dog,” NRCC Communications Director Andrea Bozek said in a statement. “She is officially part of the club that has led Connecticut families and small businesses into the worst economic recovery in American history.”
Esty said in an interview that she is looking forward to her term.
“I’m excited to be here,” she said from Washington. “It’s certainly an exciting time with big challenges, but I believe it was Churchill’s famous comment that America always eventually does the right thing. I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve.”