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A Look At The Transition Of Power On Capitol Hill


Just hours after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in, the Senate got back to work. Today, control shifted from Republicans to Democrats by the slimmest possible margin. First, Vice President Harris swore in the new Democratic senators from Georgia who will give her party the numerical edge.


VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: And that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God.




HARRIS: Congratulations.


SHAPIRO: To tell us more, we're joined now by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Hi, there.


SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what happened today.

GRISALES: So the Senate finalized their transfer of power from a Republican-led chamber, as has been the case since 2015, to one that is divided 50-50 and led by one Democrat as the tiebreaker, and that's Vice President Kamala Harris. Democrats won two weeks ago. But finally today, these two new senators from Georgia, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who shifted control of the chamber, were sworn in.

And this is ahead of some very heavy lifts ahead. The chamber's new majority leader, Chuck Schumer, in his four remarks said, quote, "I need to catch my breath. So much is happening." But he's already highlighted three big tasks ahead - a Senate impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, confirming Biden's Cabinet nominees and taking up a $1.9 trillion Biden proposal for new coronavirus relief aid.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, those are three very big tasks. What are Republicans saying about the next steps?

GRISALES: We saw Republican leaders extend an olive branch today, trying to bridge some of this dramatic divide the Trump years brought with Democrats. For example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged this transfer of power and his hopes to work with Biden. And this is a theme I heard from other Republicans today. They thought Biden struck the right tone in his inauguration speech, lifting these bipartisan hopes. I talked to Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. Let's take a listen.

LISA MURKOWSKI: You can still disagree from a policy perspective, and you can do so in ways that are still respectful and allow you to continue to work towards other goals.

GRISALES: I also caught up with GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who sounded a similar note. She said Biden struck those right themes of unity and a call for parties to stop viewing one another as adversaries. And she stands ready to advance their common goals. And West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin told Capitol Hill reporters today that a bipartisan group that includes Murkowski and Collins would be meeting with the Biden administration in the coming days. So again, this bipartisan theme was much of what I heard today from both sides.

SHAPIRO: So how do they plan to tackle impeachment, massive legislation and confirming Biden's Cabinet all at once?

GRISALES: That will be a real test for whether members can talk and chew gum at the same time as they like to say. Democrats are betting they can. One proposal that's being entertained is whether they can split their days between an impeachment trial and confirming these nominees. But first, they need to reach a power-sharing agreement with Republicans. Then they hope to tackle these big-ticket items at warp speed in the coming days.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, thank you.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.