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Washington, DC — Standing at the front of the Senate Minnesota senior senator, Mark Dayton, at his side, Dean Barkley took the oath of office, sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney, in his role as president of the Senate. Off toward the back of the floor, former Sen. Wellstone's desk sat empty, draped in a black cloth as it has been since his late October death.
The ceremony lasted less than a minute. The Senate's leadership then welcomed Barkley, beginning with Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and Minority Leader Trent Lott. Daschle and Lott then led off what would be hours of heartfelt Wellstone eulogies.
"He inspired us all with his joy, with his passion, with his energy. For those of us who believe in public service, for his deep sense of committment to public service," said Daschle.
Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said Wellstone will go down in history as a unique member of the Senate.
"I appreciated our friendship that developed. I loved to pick at him. I loved to go over and kid him about the little extra face hair that he had for a while. And I'd tell him he was my man for the nomination for presidency. And when other potential candidates would come up, I'd say 'Oh no, I'm already committed to Paul.' He loved it actually," Lott said.
Lott, who more often than not opposed Wellstone initiatives, said Wellstone had a real impact on the Senate.
Lott called Wellstone "a committed warrior," but also a sincere and generous man.
Sen. Dayton used some of his time to apologize to Senate Republicans, in particular the minority leader, for the booing they were subjected to at Wellstone's memorial service.
"Paul and Sheila would have been horrified," Dayton said.
His voice cracking, Dayton noted that Wellstone was afraid of flying in small planes.
"He flew because had had to," Dayton said. "He willed himself to fly."
Dayton cited Teddy Roosevelt's homage to the man who is in the arena - "whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."
"Now," Dayton said to Wellstone, "you can wipe the sweat and mud and blood off your face and rest in peace."
During his first Senate floor remarks, Barkley also praised Wellstone.
Barkley also joined Daschle and Dayton in calling on Congress to pass legislation that Wellstone had been pushing for: a bill making mental health insurance coverage more affordable.
Barkley had never been in the Capitol building prior to his Senate appointment, nor had he been to the White House, let alone the Oval Office, where he later in the day spent nearly a half an hour meeting with President Bush.
Standing outside the East Room, Barkley called his time with Bush "surreal." Barkley said he underscored his commitment to helping Congress pass a homeland security bill. He also appealed to the President to extend Minnesota's welfare waiver, which allows the state to spend federal welfare money on things such as education, child care and transportation.
Barkley says he's also appealing to other members of Minnesota's congressional delegation to come up with living tribute to the Wellstone's. Barkley will not say, however, what type of legislation he has in mind.