WASHINGTON, D.C. — While all of Capitol Hill Tuesday seemed riveted by the ongoing turmoil surrounding the open Senate seats in Illinois and Minnesota, the North Star State’s newest congressman tried to focus on just getting through his first day of work.
Republican Erik Paulsen, who beat DFL opponent Ashwin Madia in a highly competitive race in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District this November, arrived in Washington with his wife and four daughters last Thursday.
Although Paulsen worked for former Rep. Jim Ramstad for two years, he said that he felt butterflies in his stomach when he flew into the nation’s capital this time — likening his swearing in today to his wedding day.
“There is all this planning and you meet so many people and then it happens so quick and it is over,” Paulsen said. “You sort of have to rest and catch your breath.”
Meeting with Klobuchar
Paulsen, however, was barely allowed to do just that today. After being sworn in, he returned to his office for a get-together with staff and family before being whisked off for a photo op with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and then an impromptu meeting with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Democrat Klobuchar kept it light, chitchatting about his office and his first day, but did mention that she and Paulsen had already met to discuss possible bipartisan bills for the upcoming session.
One bill they discussed and are planning to work together on will address the problems with copper theft in Minnesota and will likely seek to tighten regulations on the buying and selling of the metal.
Although there is usually a lull in action before a new president takes office, the current economic crisis has prompted congressional leaders into at least talking about hitting the ground running.
The grim economic reality and the incredible challenges facing Congress this year seemed to temper Paulsen’s almost giddy demeanor.
“It’s exciting, but there is a little bit of nervousness as well,” he said.
Paulsen plans to start the day off Wednesday with a Republican conference meeting and a new members orientation. He said that he would like to make it on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee (who wouldn’t?), but added that his freshman status will probably keep him from the post.
“The whole thing is pretty humbling,” said Paulsen’s wife, Kelly. “It is definitely surreal, we are still pinching ourselves.”
Hardball on the Hill
But as Paulsen, Klobuchar and the rest of Congress spoke heavily about a new dawn of bipartisanship, the first day was not all handshakes and smiles.
The Democratic majority pushed through new House rules, against loud Republican opposition, that make it harder for the minority to offer alternative legislation. Former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris was blocked from taking the Illinois Senate seat. And Harry Reid had these words of wisdom for Norm Coleman, who announced today that he was filing a lawsuit to contest the results of the Minnesota recount that declared Al Franken the winner.
“Al Franken is the certified winner from Minnesota,” Reid said from the Senate floor today. “From someone who has been in the trenches on a number of these [close] elections, graciously conceding… would be the right step. This can’t drag on forever.”
Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.