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The Situation Room

Congress Prepares for a Historic Transfer of Power

Aired January 04, 2007 - 11:45   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Under the Capitol dome, Democrats stand ready to take back the reigns of power, out of their grasp for a dozen years.
SPEAKER-ELECT NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The campaign is over. Democrats are ready to lead, prepared to govern.

BLITZER: A new era, a new opportunity to solve some of America's toughest problems and heal the wounds of the bitter war.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's time to set aside politics and focus on the future.

BLITZER: In the frantic first 100 hours, will talk of unity lead to action or more anger dividing the parties and the nation. The test begins now.

You're looking at a live picture of Capitol Hill, on the brink of an historic power shift set in motion by the American people. Washington as we've known it for the past 12 years is about to be turned upside down.

The White House is bracing for difficult days ahead. Democratic leaders are clear, they plan to pursue their own agenda and hold President Bush accountable for his decisions, particularly the war in Iraq.

Look for the power shift to unleash a new power struggle between the highest ranking Democrats and Republicans in the nation. These people now hold America's future in their hands.

Welcome to our viewers, I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Over the next few hours, we'll be watching history unfold on Capitol Hill. Witnessing the power shift with us is the best political team on television. Including our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield.

We'll give you a front row seat to all the action on Capitol Hill. Senators got an early start today. The incoming Majority Leader, Harry Reid, invited members of both parties to a rare closed- door conference in the old Senate chamber this morning.

On the House side, the incoming Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is facing her own set of challenges and expectations as the first woman ever to hold that powerful post. That will put her second in line to succession to the presidency after Vice President Dick Cheney. Pelosi's swearing in will only add to the history and the drama of this day. Right now, we're counting down to the power shift. Both the House and the Senate will be called to order at noon Eastern. That's when our countdown clock runs out and ceremonies ushering in the new era in Congress begin.

In the course of all of our special coverage, we'll bring you the exact moment when Democrats take control of the House and the Senate. Now we want to take you inside the Capitol and the political maneuvering that's clearly already under way, even before the Democrats formally take charge.

Senators meeting behind closed doors this morning. And in the House, a preemptive strike on ethics. Our congressional correspondents Dana Bash and Andrea Koppel are standing by.

First to you, Dana. What did the Democrats do behind closed doors today?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Usually it's tradition here, Wolf, for the senators weekly to go behind closed doors. But, they generally meet divided, the Republicans meet in one room, Democrats in another. Today, they met symbolically together.

They met in the old Senate chamber, as you mentioned, not for cameras. It was not a legislative session. It was simply they say to get together and try to begin the new tone that they are trying to set, which is a tone of bipartisanship.

They came out and we saw something we haven't seen in a very long time, a Democratic leader and Republican leader standing side by side before the cameras saying it's a new day in Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about this whole issue of corruption and ethics? What are they expecting on that front, Dana?

BASH: Well, in the Senate, what they're going to do is they are going to put it on the Senate floor. They are going to actually have legislation to try to change the rules, the laws governing lobbyists and governing what senators can do with lobbyists.

That is something that is going to take take a few weeks. It's definitely the first order of business in the Senate. But Senator Reid and Senator McConnell, said that they're actually going to do something again we haven't seen in a long time, they are going to co- sponsor that legislation, put it on the floor, and just let the senators have a free-for-all, an old-fashioned debate.

BLITZER: It's going to take awhile in the Senate, not necessarily in the House of Representatives, Andrea Koppel. They move a lot more quickly there, don't they?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They certainly do. The new Speaker, Nancy Pelosi wants to hit the floor quite literally, running. What she's going to do over the next two days, they are going to be basically amending House rules that would outlaw, make it illegal for members to accept gifts, for them to go on rides on corporate jets, and also they're going to make earmarks, those pet projects out there much more transparent.

Remember, Wolf, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats were running against Republicans on the culture of corruption. And just before they went out for their November elections, they had the Mark Foley scandal. So, they know voters have watching them.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get back to both of you shortly. Let's get over to the White House though right now and one of the most divisive issues facing President Bush in the new Democrat- controlled Congress. That issue being, of course, Iraq.

White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is joining us. They expect to have a pretty tough time with the new leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, when it comes to Iraq, don't they, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, absolutely. This is a very unpopular idea. Of course, many Democrats and even some Republicans have said they are absolutely against this idea of more U.S. troops being brought to Iraq, to Baghdad, specifically. But sources tell us to expect the president to do exactly that, to sign off on more troops.

Pentagon sources saying anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 being the range. What we expect from Democrats is, of course, is they're going to be holding multiple hearings on how we got into the war on Iraq, how it will be carried out in the future.

We also, it will be interesting to see, whether or not Democrats will use this as a battle over the budget, if you will. It's expected that the president perhaps could ask for much, much, more money when it comes to the budget in Afghanistan, in Iraq, for military troops, for those different operations. And whether the Democrats will actually use the power of the purse to make their views known -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, we'll get back to you shortly as well. I want to bring in Jeff Greenfield, our senior analyst. We usually start these important, historic political days with four questions. You've come up with four this time -- your first one, is it play nice time or payback time?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Right. Well, the Democrats have said, that unlike what happened to them under 12 years of Republican rule, they intend to bring the Republicans in, permit them to amend bills on the floor, include them in conference committees.

But in the first 100 hours, the agenda the Democrats have in mind, speaker to be, Nancy Pelosi has said no amendments at all, no consultation, and Republicans are already crying foul on that one.

BLITZER: Second question you have, where's the line between cooperation and confrontation?

GREENFIELD: We've seen divided government more often than not in this country. There are times when a president of one party and the Congress of another have produced impressive things. In the Cold War, the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe after World War II, that was Democrat Truman and a Republican Congress. Under Ronald Reagan and a Democratic House and then Congress, we had Social Security reform and tax reform. Under Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress, we had welfare reform. But we've also had contentious divisions we've had furious fights, hearings in which the executive branch was pilloried. And we've also had a presidential resignation with Nixon and an impeachment with Bill Clinton, so this is by no means a certainty what we're going to get.

BLITZER: Question three, will a clash with Congress help or hurt President Bush?

GREENFIELD: Right. We've seen presidents Rendered almost impotent by Congress. President Ford with a big Democratic Congress could get nothing done and Congress in fact cut off funds for South Vietnam.

We saw President Bush the first forced to repudiate his no new taxes pledge by a Democratic Congress, which cost him re-election. We've also seen both with Truman, with Reagan, and Clinton, a president outgun the Congress politically and put the Congress on the defensive. We don't know how this plays out.

BLITZER: Finally, the fourth question -- will the new Congress shape the 2008 contest? We're referring to the presidential contest.

GREENFIELD: Which in the minds of some people in this town began about three years ago. You've got seven sitting senators and at least two members of the House either formally or all but formally declaring for president.

And the real question for me here, if the Democrats perform badly, how much would that hurt the Democratic nominee for president? And if the Democrats perform well, will the public say, you know, we kind of like what happened when they took power, maybe they should have the executive branch, too.

BLITZER: Four questions, good questions to ponder as we continue this special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jeff, thank you.

In the House, Democrats are planning a whirlwind of activity in what they are calling the first 100 hours. That's the first 100 working hours, hours they'll actually be in formal session. So it actually will span into about two weeks or so. Here's what they're hoping to accomplish.

On Tuesday, January 9th, Democrats want to implement the 9/11 commission recommendation, fully. The goal for Wednesday, increase the federal minimum wage. On Thursday, Democrats want to tackle another issue, many voters care about, expanding stem cell research. On the agenda for Friday, January 12th, legislation to allow the government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients.

On Wednesday, January 17th, Democrats hope to cut interest rates on student loans. The next day, they'll try to push through legislation to end subsidies for big oil and invest in renewable energy.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent John King and our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

John, first to you. It's one thing for the House to pass all of this legislation, it then has to go to the Senate where it's going to take a lot longer and finally, the president, if it's going to become the law of the land. He has to sign that legislation. So this is a process that even if the House moves rapidly, could take some time.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a fascinating test. First for Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate who has the slimmest of majorities, so he needs to work with Republicans. The Senate rules, you need 60 votes to get just about anything done to end a filibuster. So Harry Reid is going to have to deliver on his promise of bi-partisanship.

And he is a man who has had some pretty heated battles not so much with his colleagues in the Senate, but much more so with the president of the United States. It's also a test for the president . Will he truly be bipartisan? On the minimum wage, he's reached out to Democrats and said that is something I can do.

But the next item that you mentioned on that list, stem cell, lifting the federal ban on stem cell research is something Democrats and Republicans, enough Republicans want to do in the Congress, that's the one issue the president has used his veto pen on. Will he do it again? Will we early on get into a fight over that or will, perhaps, some Republican, say Sam Brownback, a Republican running for president, filibuster that issue in the Senate?

So there's a great sense of anticipation in town. The Democrats are eager to take power again but delivering on their promises will take a bit longer than many voters back home might think.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, we're about three and a half minutes away from the start of this new Congress. And the tradition and the procedures that will go forward, it could take a while even if the Democrats, as John points out, rush this through on the House side.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly because the House doesn't make law. It passes legislation. What makes laws are the House and the Senate and the president. So I think as Jeff said, we'll see what goes through.

I think if you look at the things the House Democrats want to do, they'll get that. If Nancy Pelosi has trouble with her Democrats passing this because she's in the majority now, obviously, if she has trouble holding that together, then Katie bar the door, she's going to have a lot of trouble. So we expect that will pass.

The question is whether anything big will pass? Will they be any kind of major Medicare reform, Social Security reform? Those are the two things the president talked about. That, most people looking at this Congress don't think is possible. Because that's too big and the divisions are too -- are too deep. What we have here are a president and Congress who look at things very differently. That's a recipe for not getting big done, for getting smaller things done.

BLITZER: All right Candy thanks for that. Before the power shift happens before our eyes in the coming moments, let's see it here on our touch table in THE SITUATION ROOM. That brings Tom Foreman is here. This is your specialty now this touch table.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what, we're going to look at the line-up just like you do at the beginning of a big sports event. It's all coming down to what's going to happen in these two chambers here.

We're going to start with the House because that's where the fireworks will be immediately. When Denny Hastert was in charge, 232 Republicans, 203 Democrats. Now Nancy Pelosi will have 202 Republicans to deal with but 233 Democrats. Pretty good crowd there.

Move over to the Senate side. Over here, Bill Frist had 55 Republicans, 45 Democrats, a substantial margin there, but now, it's going to be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with 51 Democrats, 49 Republicans. It's a narrow margin.

You may notice that our table here responds to pressure. And that is what it's all about right now. Can the Republicans stand the pressure of being on the downside of the numbers and can the Democrats with these little margins over here in the Senate, can they really deliver on all of these promises? Who's going to hold up to the pressure and how will they deliver. That's how the teams stack up right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: And they vote, some of the independent politicians, they vote with the Democrats in the House and the Senate. So that's why you're including them in the Democratic side, even though Joe Lieberman technically is an Independent, Bernie Sanders from Vermont, technically an Independent as well.

FOREMAN: They're not done deals.

BLITZER: But they caucus with the Democrats, that's why you're putting them in the Democratic side. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

We're getting ready momentarily, you're looking at these live pictures of the House of Representatives. Andrea Koppel is outside the House. We're watching this. This is going to be an historic moment coming up. Andrea, walk us through some of the process.

KOPPEL: Sure, Wolf. As you eluded to just a moment ago, this is a process that is seeped in history and governed by tradition. The election of a Speaker of the House is overseen by the clerk of the House. And actually what happens is you';re going to have each caucus announce who they nominated. Now we all know it';s going to be Nancy Pelosi on the Democratic side and we all know that she has the votes to win. Nevertheless, they're going to go through this. They are going to nominate each candidate. Then you're going to have the head of the caucus, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who is Rahm Emanuel, who was doing that, now he is going to be the head of the caucus, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who is Rahm Emanuel, who was doing that. Now he is going to be the head of the caucus, and he is going to give a nominating speech, and then there is a roll call vote, Wolf.

That means they're going to -- each member's name will be called. They will say who they plan to vote for, and then they don't actually have to vote for the person who was nominated.

Nevertheless, Wolf, it would be a huge surprise, a huge shock for members not to elect Nancy Pelosi. But you may see one or two, no guarantee, members who decide that they're not going to cast a vote at all.

BLITZER: All right, Andrea, hold off for a second.

This is Karen Haas, the clerk of the House, calling the House to order.

KAREN HAAS, HOUSE CLERK: ... and public Law 109447 for the meeting of the 110th Congress of the United States.

The House will be in order.

The prayer will be offered by Father Daniel P. Coughlin.

FATHER DANIEL P. COUGHLIN, HOUSE CHAPLAIN: Today is built upon all the yesterdays and contains the promise of all the tomorrows.

Lord God, you are the eternal author of all creation and every age. You are the same yesterday, today and forever.

Be present to us now, be gracious and bless all those duly elected by their districts who gather today to form the House of the people as the 110th Congress of the United States of America for the governance of our beloved nation.

Together, may they know forthright debate and civil discourse, enact quality legislation and persevere in representing the diversity and the will of the people in addressing the priority issues facing the nation today.

Bless the families of these representatives, granting them forbearance and understanding of the public service implied by this undertaking.

Lord, may the 110th Congress of the United States read the signs of the times and seize this moment to create a history that will reflect the values of your kingdom here on earth and thereby unite this nation and reveal to peoples around the world the dignity and the glory of being the free children of God, for to you be the honor, the glory, power, now and forever. Amen.


COUGHLIN: At the request of the honorable Nancy Pelosi, I am pleased to introduce the reverend Steven...

BLITZER: A similar kind of situation is unfolding on Capitol Hill on the Senate side, where there is an opening prayer, as well. The vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, who is the president of the Senate, he'll gavel the Senate into session, as well.

You're looking at live pictures of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, where both bodies begin with a prayer.

Dana Bash is on the Senate side.

We'll see the vice president momentarily, the president of the Senate, Dana, begin this process on the Senate side leading to a Democratic majority.

BASH: That's right. And it is -- there are many differences in the processes between the House and the Senate that we'll see here in the next few minutes, but one of the major differences, as you just said, is that Vice President Cheney, he always jokes that his only real role in the Constitution is to be the president of the Senate. And we just heard his motorcade pulling up behind me, it sort of added to the anticipation of this moment. He is there and he is going to start to swear in senators -- senators-elect I should say -- in groups of four in alphabetical order.

The other difference that we're going to see here, Wolf, is that we're only going to see a third of the Senate sworn in, as opposed to the House, where you're going to see everybody. Everybody has to be sworn in.

Why? That is basic, of course, civics, that only a third of the Senate is up for re-election every two years, the other two-thirds, they don't have to be sworn in because they're already sitting senators -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's listen to the Pledge of Allegiance. Actually, the vice president just completed the pledge on the Senate side. But let's listen briefly to Dick Cheney.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... 33 senators selected for six-year terms beginning January 3, 2007.

All certificates, the chair is advised, are in the form suggested by the Senate or contain all the essential requirements of the form suggested by the Senate. If there be no objection, the reading of the above-mentioned letters and the certificates will be waived and they will be printed in full in the record. If the senators to be sworn will now present themselves at the desk in groups of four as their names are called in alphabetical order, the chair will administer their oaths of office.

The clerk will read the names of the first group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Akaka of Hawaii, Mr. Bingaman of New Mexico; Mr. Brown of Ohio; Mr. Byrd of West Virginia.

BLITZER: The vice president will be swearing in all of the new members of the United States Senate, the newly-elected members, as well as those who were re-elected.

Let's listen in to this formal ceremony that's going to be going on as 33 senators will be formally sworn in by the vice president. This being the first batch all done alphabetically.

And there he is, the vice president, swearing in these initial senators.

Harry Reid watching as the new majority leader. He'll be the new majority leader watching all of this, as well.

CHENEY: ... your right hand. And repeat after me.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion?


CHENEY: That you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?

BYRD: So help me god.


CHENEY: Congratulations.


BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, it's a very -- a very short swearing- in ceremony for these senators, for the lawmakers prescribed in the U.S. Constitution. Robert Byrd, of West Virginia, what is he -- he's getting close to 100 years old already.

GREENFIELD: He's in his late 80s. He's the longest-serving member in the Senate in either party. Kind of the institutional memory of the Senate, always reminding the senators of their traditions in very sometimes lengthy speeches, and he will be technically the president pro temp of the Senate, which is one removed from speaker of the House in succession. Also, we saw Sherrod Brown from Ohio, first of the freshman who will be sworn in, one of the reasons why the Democrats control the Senate.

BLITZER: And that was Daniel Akaka, the first senator to be sworn in and to sign the official document.

Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, signing in. And here's Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He beat Mike DeWine, as a lot of our viewers will remember. And then Robert Byrd will follow.

Then they'll go through the process, four more senators will come forward, and the vice president will swear them in, as well.

GREENFIELD: And of all of them, we only have one freshman Republican senator. That's Bob Corker of Tennessee who narrowly beat Harold Ford Jr. All of the other freshmen are either Democrats or, in the case of Bernie Sanders, an Independent.

BLITZER: Here's the next four, Maria Cantwell, Tom Carper, Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, and Ben Cardin of Maryland. They're getting ready to be sworn in, as well.

CHENEY: Raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?


CHENEY: Congratulations.


BLITZER: And if you see Joe Biden, for example, or Arlen Specter standing behind the senators being sworn in, they're fellow senators from the same state. From Delaware, and in the case of Tom Carper and Bob Casey Jr. In the face of -- in the condition -- in the case of Bob Casey Jr. and Arlen Specter.

Nancy Pelosi is walking into the House of Representatives, as well, thanking one of the ministers. She invited the president of the University of San Francisco to come in. Charlie Rangel is there with her, as well.

Jeff Greenfield, it's fascinating to see both the Senate in action and the House in action, two very, very different legislative bodies.

GREENFIELD: And a really interesting point. Charlie Rangel is one of the old bulls of the House. He's been in the Congress for well over 30 year. Some of the newer members of the House who are not big city, old-fashioned Democrats, may have some political differences with many of the incoming chairs who come from a very different Democratic Party.

One very quick point. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, a pro-life Democrat recruited by Chuck Schumer in the face of some opposition by some abortion rights people. And Schumer said, look, this is how we're going to win the seat in Pennsylvania and how we're going to take over the Senate.

His strategy worked. His father, former governor of Pennsylvania.

BLITZER: The vice president and the next batch of four senators will be swearing in.

Among others, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic senator from New York State. We'll be seeing that. Here she comes right now, accompanied by Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York.

Also, Kent Conrad of North Dakota; Bob Corker, the freshman Republican from Tennessee, and John Ensign of Nevada.

Let's listen to the vice president.

CHENEY: Please raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?



CHENEY: Congratulations.

CLINTON: Thank you very much.


BLITZER: Bob Corker, you pointed out, Jeff, is the only freshman Republican. Republicans did not do very well in these more recent contests.

GREENFIELD: No. They had a number of candidates that they thought might even knock off some Democrats or take some seats in New Jersey and Maryland, and at one point they thought they had a shot at Minnesota and Michigan. But the Iraq war and the corruption issue, I think, combined, really made this -- last year just a very tough year for Republicans. And as we say, Corker, the only freshman Republican. BLITZER: Hillary Clinton now signing in that she's got six years to be a United States senator. A lot of people expect though she's going to want to look for a higher job in the coming months.

GREENFIELD: I haven't heard about that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, you haven't been watching THE SITUATION ROOM then, obviously. You need to pay closer to attention to these kind of things.

The next batch, by the way, of senators who will be sworn in include Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. He's been a United States senator for a very, very long time.

GREENFIELD: Ted Kennedy was elected in 1962 to fill the unexpired term of his brother John. He was barely 30 years old.

His primary opponent in Massachusetts said, "If your name were Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke." He has now after some 44 years, Kennedy, the unfulfilled, unexpired term of (INAUDIBLE), become really the symbol, the liberal lion of the United States Senate. A staff that is widely regarded as good.

He was widely thought at one point years ago to be a possible future president. Tried it in 1980, and it didn't work.

BLITZER: Dianne Feinstein, Orrin Hatch, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Ted Kennedy.

CHENEY: Please raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?



CHENEY: Congratulations.

HUTCHISON: Thank you.


BLITZER: Dana Bash is covering the Senate for us.

Dana, Ted Kennedy is going to be a powerful committee chairman in this new Congress.

BASH: He will be, and he certainly has been in the past. He is going to be in charge of the committee that deals with issues like minimum wage, issues of labor, issues of education.

You'll remember it was at the beginning of the president's first term that we thought there was a little bit of a twinkle of bipartisanship when it was Ted Kennedy and President Bush who agreed and worked out a deal on the No Child Left Behind legislation. That has certainly caused a lot of controversy in the years since then, but certainly at that time that was sort of a glimpse of what could have been.

Those on both sides of the aisle were hoping an era of bipartisanship that clearly didn't happen. And Ted Kennedy got some flack -- got a lot of flack from fellow Democrats for even doing that because many thought that he gave up too much.

But certainly he is considered here the liberal lion of the Senate. He has been around for decades and decades, and he was there with the other senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, as you saw him standing behind Senator Kennedy.

Senator Kerry, of course, hoping probably at this point that he's not in that chamber, that he was down the street -- the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. But two senators from Massachusetts who at least, for now, their presidential dreams have not yet come true.

Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, accompanied by Walter Mondale, the former vice president of the United States. Herb Kohl Wisconsin, Jon Kyl of Arizona, and the Independent senator, Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, will now be sworn in by the vice president.

Joe Lieberman being sworn in not as a Democrat, not as a Republican, but as an Independent member.

CHENEY: Please raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?



CHENEY: Congratulations.


BLITZER: Jeff, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota adds to the level -- another woman in the United States Senate.

GREENFIELD: That's true. A couple -- they have now got at least a baker's dozen in the United States Senate. She -- that was one of those seats where Republicans thought, well, we almost took it in presidential terms. We have a Republican governor. Maybe we can make that state at least purple, if not blue. But Amy Klobuchar won in a landslide.

And the other face we saw there...

BLITZER: Joe Lieberman.

GREENFIELD: Now, there are a lot of Democratic partisans, particularly the so-called net roots, who on the Web raised money and organized. The one disappointment for them in this Democrat takeover is that they really, really wanted to see Joe Lieberman lose to Ned Lamont.

He is this their crosshairs as a guy who was way too pro-war, way too conservative, way too friendly to Bush. But after losing the primary, Lieberman won a relatively easy victory.

BLITZER: Dennis Hastert is on the House side. We're going to go back and forth between the Senate and the House here in our special coverage. I want our viewers to be able to get a little flavor of what's happening on this historic day on both sides of Capitol Hill between the Senate and the House.

We see -- we see some members of the Senate walking in. We also see on the House side some activity, preliminary activity, as the process goes forward.

This next batch of senators, by the way, who will be sworn in include Trent Lott of Mississippi; Richard Lugar of Indiana, Claire McCaskill, the freshman from Missouri; Democrat, and Bob Menendez from New Jersey. He's not a freshman, but he was appointed to fill out the term of Jon Corzine.

Let's listen in.

CHENEY: Please raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?




CHENEY: Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE) BLITZER: Claire McCaskill, Jeff, is the freshman senator from Missouri. It was a close contest. She defeated the incumbent Republican, Jim Talent.

GREENFIELD: Missouri is always a close state. It's traditionally a weathervane state in presidential elections.

Jim Talent had beaten Jean Carnahan in 2002, who was filling out a term to which her late husband, Governor Mel Carnahan, was elected after he died. This was a stem cell research state. It was on the -- on the ballot. It narrowly passed, and a lot of people think that may have pushed just enough pro-stem cell research to the polls to narrowly defeat the incumbent, Jim Talent.

BLITZER: The -- Trent Lott, we see that he signed in. Richard Lugar, Claire McCaskill, Bob Menendez.

Candy Crowley, Trent Lott is going to be the number two Republican in the U.S. Senate.

CROWLEY: One of -- one of the great sort of phoenixes of this upcoming Senate session is Trent Lott. This was a man who used to be the majority leader on the Senate side, the top Republican.

He was drummed out of the corps when he made what was seen as an intemperate, perhaps racist, remark at the birthday party of Senator Strom Thurmond. So he was pushed aside by Republicans.

He has been bitter about that. He's been particularly upset with the White House, because President Bush seemed to cut him loose at some point. And now here he is, voted by his colleagues back to number two, a job he says he loves because he's very good at head counting, and that's what the number two does.

So he's going to be a key player in this Senate, and also one that's going to be very fun to watch because, at this point, still, he bears some resentment about what happened to him.

BLITZER: He certainly does. But he has managed to a dramatic comeback.

Trent Lott will be the number two Republican in the U.S. Senate. Mitch McConnell will be the minority leader.

This next group of senators about to be sworn in by the vice president include Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, and Olympia Snowe from Maine.

CHENEY: Please raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?



CHENEY: Congratulations.


BLITZER: Bernie Sanders, the Independent U.S. senator, longtime former member of the House of Representatives, now in the United States Senate.

GREENFIELD: The only self-avowed socialist in either branch of the Congress, although I'm sure there are some conservatives who think there are others. Bernie Sanders a man from New England -- Vermont -- with the thickest New York accent in the entire United States Senate. You put him and Hillary Clinton together and ask which one is a senator from New York, 99 out of 100 people would say, got to be Bernie.

BLITZER: He's from Brooklyn originally. Isn't he?

GREENFIELD: He is, and he was an Independent in the House, voting with the Democrats. He'll be an Independent in the Senate, voting with the Democrats. Whether or not he proposes to nationalize major American industries I rather doubt. He 's not that kind of a socialist.

BLITZER: The next group of senators -- I just want to give our viewers a little heads up -- they include Debbie Stabenow of Michigan; John Tester of Montana; Craig Thomas of Wyoming; and then Jim Webb, who defeated -- who managed to come back in Virginia and do rather well in a race that a lot of people only a few months earlier didn't give him much of a shot at winning. He managed to get himself elected.

GREENFIELD: George Allen was considered to be a likely landslider (ph), setting up a presidential run. He had that YouTube moment, as it's called, the "Macaca" moment where he made a kind of disparaging remark to a Web staffer.

Jim Webb, a former Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, very hawkish on Vietnam, very critical of Vietnam protesters, but opposed the Iraq war before it even started, and has got a seat both on the Foreign Relations Committee and Armed Services Committee. Democrats clearly mean to put him front and center on these issues.

BLITZER: As we see them approach the vice president, they will be sworn in and they'll be joined by some of their colleagues who will come to support them on this historic day.

Let's listen to the vice president swearing in this group.

CHENEY: Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?



CHENEY: Congratulations.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our John King.

John, take a look at John Tester, for example, the Democratic senator from Montana. Now, he's not your typical Democrat, is he?

KING: No, he is not. And these faces are individuals, Wolf, new players on the national stage. But they also represent geographical changes that we saw play out in the midterm elections.

In John Tester, Democrats have a very different man. He is a man, you know, who will be pro-gun. He will be a more conservative Democrat than, let's say, a Hillary Clinton in the Senate. But he also represents the party's hopes.

You base your next election on the last one. And in 2006, the Democrats knocked out the moderate Republicans. They're almost extinct now in the Northeast. And they had some gains out in the mountain West.

You see a Democrat being elected to the Senate from Montana. And let's come back East, and a Democrat being elected in the usual Republican state of Virginia. And you know right now that the Democrats, as they look ahead to 2008, will say, what did John Tester do, what did Jim Webb do to win in a previously red state, and how can we change our dynamics, our map, and our issues that we debate on the floor in the United States Congress over the next two years to position our party's nominee in 2008 to take advantage of what we learned in 2006?

BLITZER: It's interesting also, John, that Jim Webb, the new senator from Virginia, the Democratic majority now says he's going to be a member of both the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee. That's a rare honor.

KING: He is a former Navy secretary from the Reagan administration, a one-time Republican. Some would consider him an accidental senator, as Jeff was just noting. George Allen's missteps are about -- are equally, at least, responsible for Jim Webb's success than the campaign that he ran, but that happens a lot in politics.

Sometimes you win a race because of the blunder or the missteps of your opponent. The key to a good politician is to learn from that.

And one of the advantages of being a United States senator, as opposed to a member of the House, is Jim Webb now has six years. If he wants to have a long Senate campaign, he has six years before he faces the voters again.

So, whether he is there of his own doing, if you will, or not, he's a very important member, a Democrat they will put out on national security issues. Because, Wolf, again, one of the very big issues now confronting the Democrats is, they were elected on this tide of Democratic voters saying we've had enough with the Iraq war, but their powers are actually quite limited in telling the president what to do and in pushing the president to do things in Iraq.

And one thing -- one thing the Democrats do not want coming out of 2006 into 2008 is to be so antiwar, to be shouting so much about it, that they appear weaker, soft, if you will, on the bigger national security question. So, look for Jim Webb, as long as they are impressed with his seasoning in the Senate, to become a spokesman for the party on those issues.

BLITZER: That was Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator now from Rhode Island, the last of the 33 senators sworn in today, the freshmen senators and those re-elected.

The swearing-in ceremony conducted by the president of the Senate -- that would be the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney -- is now completed.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for a special edition of "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, not everybody is optimistic about the future of this group that's being sworn in this morning. Let me read you something.

"I don't think the 110th Congress is going to be very productive. If you thought the 109th was down the drain, wait until you see this."

That's a quote from Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. And he might be on to something.

Anderson Cooper last night on CNN had a story about how Duke Cunningham is sitting in prison collecting a $60,000 pension. You and I pay that. So is James Traficant, the congressman from Ohio convicted of bribery. We pay his, too. And so is every other convicted felon who used to be in Congress.

No indication that's going to change anytime soon.

And when John Tester -- you were just talking about him, the newly-elected Democratic senator from Montana -- was asked in an interview on MSNBC that I watched this morning what he thought about independent oversight of Congress, he hesitated. He said he didn't want to create any new bureaucracy, but rather wanted the existing Ethics Committee to do a better job. Here's a guy who's been in town in an hour and he's already drinking the Kool-Aid.

Nevertheless, the American public is a little more positive about the change of power in Congress now than they were the last time around, the big Republican revolution of '94.

A CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation shows 46 percent of those surveyed think the Democrats will bring real reform to Congress. That compares to 37 percent who felt that way about the Republicans in 1994.

Forty-six percent say the new Democratic-led Congress will get more done than their predecessors. That shouldn't be hard to do. The predecessors didn't do anything. Fourteen percent think they'll get less done, and 39 percent say there'll be no difference.

As for the behavior of the members of Congress, 16 percent think the incoming group will be more corrupt, 32 percent think they'll be less corrupt, 49 percent don't expect any change at all.

So here's the question: How optimistic are you that things will change with the 110th Congress?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll get back to you soon, Jack. Thank you very much.

Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, though, history will be made in the U.S. House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi will become the speaker of the House of Representatives.

We're going to bring you live coverage of that moment.

We'll also be speaking with two guys who would have liked to have been sworn in today, Harold Ford Jr. and Michael Steele. They were both defeated, but they'll share their thoughts with us as our special coverage of this historic day in the nation's capital continues.


BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of the gallery at the House of Representatives. On your left over there, you see Tony Bennett, who left his heart in San Francisco. San Francisco now the hometown of the next speaker of the House of Representatives. In the middle there, the woman, Carole King, the songwriter, the artist, and Richard Gere, the actor. All have gathered here on this historic day to watch this dramatic situation unfold. Jeff Greenfield, there's a nice group up there in the house gallery.

GREENFIELD: One of Carole King's great songs was "You've Got a Friend." And I have a feeling the Democrats have a lot more friends in town, particularly on K Street, than they might have had about three or four months ago, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a certainty. You're looking at the floor of the House of Representatives. We're standing by. We will be watching as Nancy Pelosi becomes the speaker of the House of Representatives, a dramatic, dramatic and historically important moment.

Up until very recently Harold Ford Jr. was a member of the House of Representatives, part of the Democratic minority. He's joining us now from New York on a day that his party takes control.

Harold Ford Jr., thanks very much for joining us. Jeff Greenfield is joining us as well.

You got close to becoming a United States senator from Tennessee, but not close enough. Give us a little flavor of how you feel on this day watching some of your former colleagues now being sworn in.

HAROLD FORD JR., FMR. CONGRESSMAN: Well, naturally I wanted to be there. It was encouraging to see Jon Tester, and James Webb, and Claire McCaskill, and Bernie Sanders, and Ben Cardin, who I served with in the Congress. I'm encouraged they're in the Senate, excited for them, and they now have to get on with the business of governing the country. I think that not only in those states, Montana, Maryland and Missouri which they came from, I think voters all around the country now are ready for Democrats to deliver on some of the things that voters want now in Congress. I think they've wanted it for some time and have been disappointed over the last few years. They want ethics reform. They want energy reform. They want government to be honest and accountable. And, frankly, they're ready for this president and this Congress to work better together to balance the budget, and do the things that families and businesses of all sides...

BLITZER: Harold, hold on a second. I want to watch the vice president now swearing in Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the president pro-temp now of the Senate. This will mean the Democrats are now the majority in the Senate. Let's listen in briefly.


SEN. ROBERT (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I do so help me God.

CHENEY: Congratulations.

BYRD: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) BLITZER: The longest serving member in the United States Senate, Robert Byrd, joined by Harry Reid, who is now the majority leader. He will be the majority leader. We saw a little bit of a smile from Dick Cheney as he swore in the president pro-tem now. This is the House of Representatives, the other side of Capitol Hill.

There's Nancy Pelosi. She's getting ready to become the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Harold Ford, as you watch this, you served with Nancy Pelosi in the house for a long time. Steny Hoyer, he's there, as well. He'll be her top deputy, a bittersweet moment for you.

FORD: Not at all. Naturally I wanted to be in the Senate, Wolf, but that day is over with. We now are watching Democrats after a long, hard fight on issues and substance assume the mantel of responsibility and power in the Congress and the Senate, and I have great confidence in Nancy, and Steny and Charlie Rangel and the team, and Rahm Emanuel, who did such an extraordinary job, that they will now start the process of leading and governing this country in a way that Americans of all stripes and backgrounds want them to do.

So as much as I wanted to be there, I'm proud of them, and I'm happy not only for them, but proud for the country that we'll have leadership now that will be responsive to their needs. I think Nancy and Steny both realize that if this Congress does not respond then we'll find ourselves in a very difficult position in two years politically.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nominations are now in order.

BLITZER: Do you think -- hold on a second, Harold, because I want to listen to this. I want to listen to the clerk go through this formal process of making this transition to a new speaker.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: I'm particularly thrilled to be a part of this moment, thrilled that a generation of young girls and boys across America are about to witness another historic step in our nation's march toward equality of opportunity. Nancy Pelosi's goal is a Congress known for its ideas, not its insults, its patriotism, not its partisanship,

Madam Clerk, as the chairman of the Democratic caucus, I'm directed by the unanimous vote of that caucus to present for election to the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 110th Congress the name of the honorable Nancy Pelosi as a member from the state of California.


BLITZER: Rahm Emanuel nominating Nancy Pelosi to become the speaker of the House of Representatives. The Republican Conference chairman, Adam Putnam of Florida, will nominate John Boehner of Ohio. The Democrats will have the votes. You heard, Harold Ford, you heard Rahm Emanuel say this was the unanimous -- unanimous decision of all the Democrat members. I take it no blue dogs are just going to vote present. Is that what you're hearing, as well?

FORD: Well, I think she will enjoy unanimous support from the caucus for the obvious reason that she did a heck of a job in winning a majority, and I think people have confidence in her leadership.

BLITZER: Here's Adam Putnam of Florida introducing John Boehner.

SEN. ADAM PUTNAM (R), FLORIDA: ... honesty, integrity, decency, uncanny wisdom and understanding as chairman of the Republican Conference I'm directed by the unanimous vote of that conference to present for election to the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 110th Congress the name of the honorable John A. Boehner from the state of Ohio.


BLITZER: A very young member of the Congress, Adam Putnam. He's the second youngest member of the House of Representatives. He's just introduced John Boehner to become the speaker. He's not going to be the speaker. He's not going to be the speaker. He'll be the minority leader in the House of Representatives. The Republicans simply don't have the votes.

So, Jeff Greenfield, a new generation coming in.

GREENFIELD: Yes, and it leads me to a question for Harold Ford, who was once, I believe, the youngest member of the House, or one of them. Your fellow Tennessean, Andrew Jackson, when he lost a contested bid for the presidency in 1824, many people think he was robbed of it, he turned around and for four years began running for president, which he won. Are you already thinking about your next political future as a still very young man who almost won that Senate seat?

FORD: Well, Andrew Jackson led a pretty good path there, Greenfield, I think is what you're saying. There's no doubt, I love the idea, notion, and practice of public service, and will serve in any way that my state allows me over the next few years. Politics and public service is in my blood, and I hope that the voters of Tennessee will give me another opportunity at some point later in the future.

BLITZER: The roll call is now taking place, guys. The clerk of the house, Karen Haas, calling for the vote. That will be announced shortly. It's not going to be very questionable who will be elected the next speaker of the House. The tension clearly not mounting in this particular case, Nancy Pelosi.

Give us a thought, Harold Ford, about Nancy Pelosi. You worked closely with her for a long time. Obviously the first woman to become the speaker of the House, but you know her. Give us something -- tell us something about her that our viewers might not necessarily know.

FORD: I think, obviously, everyone knows that she's smart, very capable, politically very savvy, but has a very keen policy mind and is able to connect the dots across different jurisdictions and disciplines in the Congress, will work well with the Tax Writing Committee, will work well with the Intelligence Committee, having served as the leading Democrat on that committee. So she will have her hands, rightly so, on national security and important domestic matters.

And as much as they want to call her the liberal from California, as you know, I ran against her for minority leader four years ago, and I think we both grew to respect one another. But my respect for her leadership ability was heightened, or has heightened, over the years. She not only will make Democrats proud, but I think she will make Republicans in the Congress not only respect her but want to work with her. And I think the country as much as they may not agree with everything that she does, I think they will come to respect her ability, her approach, and more importantly her patriotism as Rahm said so well in her introduction, in his introduction of her.

BLITZER: Rahm Emanuel emerging as a superstar of the Democratic majority now in the U.S. House of Representatives as well a former top aide to President Bill Clinton who served in the White House in the Clinton Administration.

Andrea Koppel is watching all of this unfold on the House side for us. Once Nancy Pelosi is formally elected, the transfer of power in the U.S. House has taken place, Andrea.

KOPPEL: Well, it has, Wolf, but we should also let our viewers know that this process isn't going to happen quickly. This is going to take probably another 90 minutes to unfold.

What you're going to have now is the alphabetical roll call voice vote. Each member's name will be called and then they will say aye or nay if they support Nancy Pelosi or for that matter John Boehner.

Then you're going to have the clerk of the House who is going to announce the results of the vote and will then appoint a committee to escort Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to be the Speaker, of course, into the chamber.

You're going to have the sergeant-at-arms who is going to announce the speakership. This is a tightly scripted, not quick, but tightly scripted steeped in tradition ceremony that we're watching and will be watching for the next 90 minutes, Wolf.

It will be probably about 2:15, we expect, when you're going to have the dean of the House, John Dingell, Congressman, long-standing Congressman from Michigan who is expected to administer the oath of office to Nancy Pelosi, who will then turn around and administer the oath to the newly elected members of the House, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a formal process, an important process, a very deliberate process, Jeff Greenfield. One that is steeped in history. Let's listen briefly to the clerk Karen Haas.

HAAS: The nominee of their choice. The reading clerk will now call the roll.

BLITZER: All right. We're not going to listen to the full roll call. Andrea, this is unusual on the House side. We always hear a voice vote, a roll call in the Senate side, but it's unusual in the House to go through a formal voice roll call like this, isn't it?

KOPPEL: Yes, well, actually, Wolf, in terms of this ceremony itself, back in 1839, the speaker was actually elected by secret ballot, but then eventually it was decided that they need to adopt the voice vote.

I'm not sure of the story behind that but perhaps Jeff Greenfield could ...

BLITZER: Maybe Jeff or Harold Ford? Let's ask Harold first. Harold Ford, why the formal voice roll call in the House? Normally it's done electronically.

FORD: Well, Jeff might be able to tell us the exact reason, but I got to tell you, I appreciate the voice vote because it puts everything in the open and allows members to know where each stand when it comes to voting for the Speaker of the House. It's also important to note that Speaker of the House is not a partisan position.

It's -- you actually run the House. Tradition has it where the majority party, the leader of the majority party is the Speaker, but it is not a partisan position.

I remember when my dad was elected I was 4 years old. My youngest brother was born the day my dad was sworn in in 1975 and I remember yelling out the name of the Speaker, I think it was Mr. Albert. I yelled out his name on my dad's behalf.

So, as I look at all the kids on the floor, I can remember particularly the four, five and six-year-olds there, I remember what it was like and obviously remember what it was like as a member.

This is a little bit of pageantry here and tradition, but I think it's a tradition that the country will not only appreciate, but I think it's important for kids to even watch how this great process of ours unfolds.

BLITZER: And I think these children who are there on the floor of the House of Representatives -- they'll remember this the rest of their lives, this historic day, Jeff Greenfield as we watch Nancy Pelosi there with some young kids, maybe her grandchildren. I'm not sure.

GREENFIELD: Well, you see the politics does run in the blood. Not just Harold Ford whose father was a distinguished member of the Congress for many years, Nancy Pelosi's father and brother both served as mayor of Baltimore.

I can tell you this, one of the reasons they have not a secret ballot is that there are no surprises in the actual caucuses. When people are running, Steny Hoyer beat Nancy Pelosi's choice in part because it was a secret ballot.

BLITZER: Andrea, do you know who these young kids are sitting next to the speaker-to-be?

KOPPEL: I do, Wolf. Thanks to our producer, Capitol Hill producer Deidre Walsh, they are among the five grandchildren who actually escorted Nancy Pelosi, her grandchildren, who escorted her into the chamber a short time ago.

When she was out on the stump frequently Miss Pelosi would talk about how she's the mother of five, she has five grandchildren and the sixth was due right around election day, Wolf. and actually she wasn't sure if she was going to be here in Washington or in New York where her daughter Alexandra lives. In fact, her sixth grandchild, a little boy, was born shortly after Election Day, but that's who she is surrounded by right now.

BLITZER: That's a lovely sight to see all the young kids there, children, grandchildren, certainly Harold Ford, as you watch all of this, this is a moment where these newly elected and re-elected members of the Senate and the House, they really have an opportunity for their families to participate.

FORD: This marks one of those times. I thank Mr. Greenfield for the kind words about my father, but this certainly marks one of those moments where everyone comes together. Really a two or three days of it as the new members are in town for orientation over the last three or four weeks and some of the returning members, the re-elected members, their families are all together and then right after this thankfully Rahm and Jim Clyburn, the other leader in the Democratic leadership and Steny Hoyer and Speaker Pelosi are going to put this Congress right to work.

Something that in my ten years in the Congress, we didn't do shortly after. We took on the procedural issues but not substantive ones. And Miss Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi has made clear that ethics reform will be right at the top of the list, a budget deal, evidently President Bush has signaled to the Democrats he's ready to negotiate and that he's ready to acquiesce to the Democrat's demands that we balance the budget.

So, we'll get off to a good start under this speaker's leadership and I have great confidence that leader Hoyer and Whip Clyburn and obviously the caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel will follow through on the promises they made not only to their fellow colleagues, but more importantly to the American people that they're going to govern effectively and honestly and openly.

BLITZER: Harold Ford, a lot of our viewers are wondering what are you going to be doing now for the next year or two as you adjust to life without being a member of the House of Representatives?

FORD: Very kind. Today marks the first day now that Congress, the last Congress is over with, the new one starts and I'm no longer a member of Congress, so I can begin that process and I can tell you I'm going to spend a lot of time at home. I may do some teaching and may work with my governor on some matters and issues that are important to the state and haven't decided much beyond that, but I promise you I'll keep you posted. BLITZER: We'll stay in close touch with Harold Ford.

FORD: I may ask Mr. Greenfield if he'll take me to one of those basketball games he goes to in Washington on occasion which I see.

BLITZER: He goes to games in New York to see the Knicks not doing all that great this year. I'll be happy to take you to a Washington Wizards game though. The Wizards very hot right now.

Harold Ford Jr., thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM for our special coverage of this historic day.

And we're going to take a quick break. When we come back we'll continue the process. It's still unfolding in the Senate. Still unfolding in the House. The transfer of power. We're awaiting history to be made here in Washington, D.C. when Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman Speaker of the House.

Our special coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage. The transfer of power in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate from Republican to Democratic majorities, that's happening right now.

We've seen in the U.S. Senate so far the vice president of the United States Dick Cheney, who is the president of the Senate, swearing in Robert Byrd of West Virginia as the president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate. Harry Reid will become the majority leader.

And shortly, within the next half hour or so, we'll be hearing and seeing Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker of the House, as she gets ready for this next challenge -- this major political challenge for the Democratic Party.

Let's go through some of the issues that the Democrats in the House want to move quickly with over the next few days. The first 100 hours -- working hours -- of the new Congress of the House of Representatives starting January 9th, the Democrats hope to implement all the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

The next day, January 10th, they want to increase the federal minimum wage. January 11 they want to expand stem cell research. January 12th they want to negotiate for lower prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients. The following week on January 17th, they want to cut interest rates on student loans. And on January 18th they want to help end oil subsidies for big oil as they call it and then use that money to invest in renewable energy.

On January 11, next week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our medical correspondent, the Democrats are hoping to get a way to expand embryonic stem cell research. Give our viewers a sense of what they're hoping to do and what this would mean if the Senate then follows suit and the president signs it into law. As you know he's used the veto once already on a similar kind of initiative but give our viewers a sense of what's at stake.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're talking about specifically are three different issues here. One is actually expanding federal funds so that you can actually study stem cells, do research on stem cells, and help translate some of that research into diagnostics and to therapy. That is sort of at the nuts of all of this.

But also, if you remember, Wolf, we talked a lot about these stem cell lines when President Bush talked famously in August of 2001 about existing stem cell lines being funded but no other stem cell lines.

There was only about 22 stem cell lines at that point that were usable, and scientists that we have spoken to say, well, some of those have become contaminated. Their not as usable as they were and it's simply not enough.

So the second issue would be actually increasing the number of stem cell lines. And finally as a result of the funding, as a result of the increased stem cell lines, to actually attract more researchers and research into the United States into specific laboratories.

It's been interesting, Wolf, to watch this as a doctor. You see that when you have federally-funded research going on in the lab and stem cell research that's not federally-funded, they get very few resources. They can't use certain microscopes, certain instruments that are, for example, bought with federal funds.

So it's been very difficult for those stem cell researchers to actually get anything done. That would change if these federal funds came through, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know -- I want to switch gears briefly, Sanjay. The Democrats have a 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate. But there's one senator who is in very serious condition right now, Senator Tim Johnson. He's suffered a stroke. He had major brain surgery. He's going through recovery right now. I know you've been looking into his specific case. Give us an update on what we know.

GUPTA: Yes, we just heard some news just today, Wolf. He had another test which was an angiogram that basically showed the cause of the bleeding. The thing that caused the bleeding in the first place has been adequately treated, successfully treated.

The real issue here for him, Wolf, is that the location of this bleeding in his brain happens to be the exact location that is responsible for speech, meaning the ability to speak, the ability also to write, the ability to comprehend.

What we have heard over the past three or four weeks now is that he is able to understand speech, able to respond, for example, to his wife's voice, but he is still using the ventilator, the breathing machine at night.

He has been unable to speak on his own and that is obviously going to take a long time in terms of rehabilitation, not only for his speech, but also for his strength on the right side of his body which was weak, as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: But he'll stay a U.S. senator as long as he is alive, even if he is in critical condition. Hold on a second, Sanjay.

Jeff Greenfield wants to weigh in on this because a lot of our viewers will, of course, be aware, Jeff, if there is a 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate, there's a Republican governor out there, then the vice president breaks the tie and that's Dick Cheney.

GREENFIELD: But we have had examples in the past of senators incapacitated for long periods of time who nonetheless remained in the Senate. Karl Mundt of South Dakota for three years never went to Washington but never gave up his seat. Senator Robert Wagner of New York was out for a couple of years, I believe, with a heart condition.

So it's interesting, Sanjay, that there is nothing in the law that requires even an incapacitated senator to step down.

GUPTA: I found that out as well just as sort of doing this story about Senator Tim Johnson. I was somewhat surprised by that, but you're right. And, you know, the interesting thing with the senator's case, his cognition, his ability to actually comprehend things and think about things may be very much intact, Jeff.

But his ability to speak, his ability to speak clearly -- and you heard that famous radio interview when he had these problems he started to have that garbled speech. Would his speech be normal or would it be more garbled? Obviously, such an important trait for a senator, Jeff.

BLITZER: All right, Sanjay, thanks very much. Jeff, hold on. Both of you, hold on. I want to take a quick commercial break. But we're going to have a lot more coverage coming up on this special day. Lou Dobbs is also standing by to join our coverage. Lou has some thoughts on what this transfer of power means for all of us. We'll be right back.