Mark Kirk took the Senate oath of office on Monday, sworn in by Vice President Biden and flanked by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) the last Illinois Republican in the Senate, to fill in the weeks left to President Obama's Senate term.
Kirk, an officer in the Navy reserves, borrowed from the Navy Academy the 1827 bible used by David Farragut--the Navy's first admiral. The Senate chamber was filled with about 100 Kirk family members, including his mother, Judy, and friends as well as Democratic and Republican members of the Illinois House delegation. A short time after becoming a senator, Kirk took his first votes--including one supporting a food safety bill Durbin has been championing for years.
At a reception afterwards in the Russell Senate Office Building, Kirk kicked back into campaign mode at the top of his speech, retooling a line he used during the campaign. "My name is Mark Kirk and I just replaced Roland Burris in the United States Senate," Kirk told supporters. "Today, we ended a sad chapter in Illinois history. Our state leaders tried to sell this seat and then blocked a special election to fill it. But the courts, the law and the people of Illinois won."
Kirk, a five term House member from Highland Park, resigned his House seat on Monday afternoon; the tenth congressional House seat stays vacant until Rep.-elect Robert Dold (R-Ill.) is sworn in next January.
Kirk beat Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias earlier this month for a six-year term and, in a court-ordered special election held at the same time--the result of a lawsuit -- for the unexpired Obama term. Contrary to what Kirk said it was former Gov. Blagojevich--not state leaders--who was indicted for trying to sell the Obama seat and the lawyers who pushed for the special election were Democrats.
Kirk is one of 95 House and Senate Republicans swept into office last November. During the lame duck session Democrats have 58 votes to 42 for the GOP, losing the 60 vote, filibuster proof advantage they had.
In a bi-partisan move, Chicago mayoral hopeful Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), at the Kirk reception, invited the new junior senator to his West Side Chicago district for a town hall meeting. "Congratulaitons on a great victory. I know you are going to be good for the people of Illinois," Davis told Kirk.
Fitzgerald, now a banker in a Washington suburb, focused on chronic Illinois corruption during his time in the Senate. Kirk, following on that said, said in his speech, "I aspire to have a big impact on the political culture of Illinois by following the footsteps of Senator Fitzgerald to ensure we have more federal prosecutors just like our crusading U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to root out corrupt officials in Illinois."
For all his years on Congress, Kirk has mainly stayed on the House side of the Capitol. Almost giddy with excitement, Kirk talked to reporters about actually being on the Senate floor. "It's kind of a Mr. Smith goes to Washington feeling," Kirk said, a reference to the famous movie. "To actually be standing there is a whole different experience."