Mississippi congressmen sworn in to new Congress

WASHINGTON — At midday Tuesday, Mississippi GOP Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker stood side by side at the central doorway of the Senate chamber and moved forward with other newly elected senators toward Vice President Dick Cheney, who, as president of the Senate, swears in new senators.

Then, about twenty minutes later, they did it again.

In an unusual bit of electoral timing and strict Senate protocol, each newly elected Mississippi senator escorted the other to be sworn in. Cochran went first, sworn in for his sixth term, accompanied by Wicker, who stood behind him. Then, as the Senate proceeded alphabetically, Wicker, elected in a special election Nov. 4 to finish the term of former Sen. Trent Lott, was escorted by Cochran.

"It was an honor to be sworn in alongside Sen. Cochran," said Wicker. While such a dual event is rare, Wyoming also had two Republican senators sworn in Tuesday — Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, who, like Wicker, had been appointed to the Senate and then won a special election.

It was a day of pomp and pageantry in the Senate and a bit of free-wheeling fun in the House where the children and grandchildren of members sat in the chamber, fidgeted and even called out their relative’s choice for speaker during a roll-call vote.

In the House, newly elected Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, enthusiastically joined lawmakers in his new job, first at the massive swearing-in of all members, followed by an individual "mock" photo-op swearing in with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined by family and friends.

"Today, I signed a verbal contract to serve the interests and concerns of each individual in the third congressional district," said Harper in a statement. In an interview, he said, "It's just such an overwhelming, exciting time."

Harper has scheduled another, ceremonial swearing-in today for family and constituents in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress with guest-of-honor Judge Charles Pickering handling the swearing-in duties.

Why Pickering? Well, aside from Harper filling former Rep. Chip Pickering's seat, the new lawmaker has a long history with the former federal judge.

"Thirty years ago, I ran the phone bank for Pickering for U.S. Senate," said Harper. Then a college student, Harper got a nice letter after the election with a personal note from Pickering, who lost to Cochran in the primary. "He wrote 'if I can ever help you, please let me know,' "said Harper, who saved the letter.

More than 30 years later, the newly elected Harper went into Pickering's law office and handed him the letter -- "remember this?" -- and asked him to swear him in. Pickering, said Harper, "got a kick out of it."

Rep. Travers Childers, D-Booneville, who won a special election early in 2008, and then won election in November, was also sworn in Tuesday. "I am incredibly honored to be sworn in for the second time to the U.S. House of Representatives," said Childers.

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, who was first elected in a special election in 1989, was also sworn in for the 11th time. He skipped the mock swearing-in.

Wicker, in an interview, said that in the next four years of his term, he will focus on the economy. (Senators serve six years but Wicker is finishing Lott's term.)

"First and foremost, we need to get our economy moving again. The yet-to-be-written economic stimulus bill represents a great opportunity to jump-start our country’s economy, but only if it is done correctly." Wicker wants the stimulus bill touted by President-Elect Barack Obama to be "targeted, temporary, and timely" to provide an economic boost without permanently increasing the size of the government.

Asked about flood insurance and the ongoing insurance crisis since Hurricane Katrina, Wicker said, "We'll be working on any number of approaches for an insurance solution for the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

"We need to enact a proposal that enables people to purchase wind/water insurance and spreads the risk," he said.