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Coleman takes Senate oath
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U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman greeted well-wishers at a reception after he took the oath of office Tuesday. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
Republican Norm Coleman officially took his place in the U.S. Senate Tuesday, succeeding Democrat Paul Wellstone. Coleman was sworn into office along with other new members of the Senate and House. Another Minnesota Republican, John Kline, was sworn into the House of Representatives, replacing Democrat Bill Luther. Coleman and Kline join a Congress set to begin work toward rebuilding the nation's economy amid growing international tension, and what appears to be the increasing likelihood of a war with Iraq.

Washington, D.C. — By groups of four, more than 30 newly elected and re-elected U.S. senators made their way to he front of the Senate to be sworn into office.

Among the newcomers administered the oath by Vice Dick Cheney was a man the White House was instrumental in bringing to Washington. Norm Coleman took the oath on a Bible given to him by a priest who is friend of his family -- the same Bible Coleman used when he was sworn in as mayor of St. Paul.

In a Senate reception room across the street from the Capitol, a large group of Coleman supporters watched the swearing-in on TV monitors. Coleman joined them afterward, and for a brief time so did Attorney General John Aschroft and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

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Image Attorney General John Ashcroft, right, joined Coleman at the reception

"I wouldn't be here without the support of the President of the United States," Coleman said to the group. "And this nation is blessed to have George W. Bush as President of the United States."

Among the well-wishers who traveled Washington to celebrate with Coleman was former Republican Sen. Rod Grams, who predicts Coleman will do well in the nation's capital.

"You look what Norm was able to accomplish in St. Paul -- working with all different factions on the city council -- it's very similar type of work," Grams said. "And if Norm was successful in St. Paul, I think he's going to do a great job here."

Grams delcined to say what advice he might have for Coleman.

Long time Republican activist K.J. McDonald predicts Coleman will go beyond the Senate one day.

"I'm very pleased that we were successful at getting Norm elected. He'll serve Minnesota well. I've known Norm for a long time. I think he has the potential of someday being president of the United States."

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Image Sen. Coleman in his basement office

The campaign that brought Coleman to Washington was one of the most remarkable in Minnesota's -- perhaps in the nation's -- history. It included the death of DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone, the re-emergence of fellow Democrat former Vice President Walter Mondale, and an extraordinary five-day blitz to election day watched by the nation.

Coleman says finally standing on the floor of the Senate was overwhelming.

"Almost a sense of chills. It's just kind of overwhelming that you're there and the moment is now and it's real. But I'm also ready for it ... I'm ready to get to work. These are some challenging times and I want to serve the people of this state. I want to do a good job," Coleman said. "But now we go from the overwhelmed to the real practical. What are we going to get done? How are we going to get it done? I'm going to do my best."

The day he became senator, Norm Coleman sounded much like candidate Coleman. Before the swearing-in ceremony, Coleman met with reporters in his makeshift basement Senate office and renewed his pledge to work hard to get things done by reaching across party lines.

"Voters expect elected officals to take care of business, to get it done. So I come into the 108th Congress and people always ask, 'What's the first thing you're going to do?' A lot of what we're going to do is what wasn't done in the 107th Congress," Coleman said. "There are appropriations bills that haven't been finished, there's an energy bill that hasn't been finished. There's a prescription drug benefit in Medicare that was not take care of ... a whole range of things."

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Image U.S. Rep. John Kline

The first big battle Coleman will likely weigh in on will be that between the competing Republican and Democratic economic stimulus plans. Coleman says he's a firm believer across-the-board tax cuts would help turn around the economy.

Minnesota's senior senator, Democrat Mark Dayton, says he expects ideological disagreements with Coleman. But Dayton also says he anticipates a good working relationship with his new Republican colleague, particularly on efforts to improve the farm economy.

"My agriculture staff is approaching his to see if he would like to co-sponsor legislation that I introduced last year. We would co-sponsor it together this year on both disaster aid for farmers as well as biofuels," said Dayton. "I hope would could have a Coleman-Dayton bill that we could introduce soon together and work on together."

On the other side of the Capitol, another newcomer to Washington from Minnesota was being sworn into the House of Represenatives. It took Republican John Kline three tries to get to Congress -- to finally unseat Democrat Bill Luther.

"I discovered that it's a whole lot better to win than lose," Kline said.

Kline, a former Marine, campaigned heavily on his military background. He's hoping to put that experience to work on the House Armed Services Comitttee.

"That's the committee where I have the most to bring to the table. So that's something I've got to do -- I've got to put my experience and my energy to work helping to win this war on terror, and helping to make sure that our military is configured properly and we're well-trained and well- equipped. I'm excited about the opportunity to do that," said Kline.

Normally there a lull in Washington between the swearing in of Congress and late January, when the president delivers his State of the Union address. But not for this 108th Congress.

Observers say Coleman and Kline will get something of a baptism by fire as the Senate and House immediately take up unfinished business from the previous session, and the battle over an economic stimulus package.

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