HELENA – Republican Steve Daines became Montana’s newest U.S. senator Tuesday, while fellow Republican Ryan Zinke was sworn in as the state’s lone congressman to succeed Daines.
Barely an hour later, Daines was responding to President Barack Obama’s threat to veto the first piece of legislation from the new GOP-led Congress.
“We’re going to see some good, bipartisan support for the Keystone (XL pipeline) bill,” he said. “We can’t control what the president does, but we’re going to keep moving forward for the people who elected us.
"Montanans want to see (the pipeline) approved, and we’re going to keep doing the work of the people.”
Congressional Republicans say they’re going to pass a bill this week to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. The route goes through the northeast corner of Montana.
Daines took the oath as U.S. senator at about 10 a.m. MST, and was escorted into the Senate chamber by his Montana colleague, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
“It was an honor to be escorted by the senior senator from Montana as I begin my new term here today,” he said in a brief interview an hour or so later.
Meanwhile, at 12:30 p.m., Zinke was sworn in as Montana’s congressman, succeeding Daines in the House. More than 100 family, friends and supporters from Montana made the trip to watch the ceremony.
“I was humbled by the level of support,” Zinke said in a brief telephone interview.
The House voted in alphabetical order to elect a speaker, and Zinke said he was the last to cast his vote. He supported the re-election of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who survived a challenge from three members of his party’s conservative wing.
“It was clearly divided between (Democratic Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner,” Zinke said. “Given that choice, my vote was clear.”
With Republicans taking over the Senate and building on their House majority, “there’s no hiding in this Congress,” Zinke said. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is now minority leader and can’t protect Obama anymore, he said.
“If Congress passes legislation between the hash marks – Obamacare, fiscal responsibility, immigration including protecting the southern border, and energy policy – then the president’s going to have a choice,” Zinke said. “If he doesn’t sign reasonable legislation, he very clearly will be more isolated than he is now and Congress will vote to overturn a veto.”
He added, “If congressional leadership fails to articulate a plan and they are unable to move the ball up the field, I think there will be a reshuffling. There is not a lot of time. They have to show they can take action, and much of it will be bipartisan.”
Daines won election last November to succeed U.S. Sen. John Walsh, who had been appointed last February to fill out the term of Sen. Max Baucus, who resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.
Daines defeated Democrat Amanda Curtis and Libertarian Roger Roots to become only the third Republican U.S. senator from Montana in the past 100 years.
He said other top priorities for him this Congress include a bill to boost logging on national forests, legislation to scale back “overreaching regulations” and breaking the gridlock in the Senate.
“My desire is to go back to a process that allows both sides to be heard, to start moving together with legislation to achieve some results,” he said. “We want to get bills on the president’s desk.”
Zinke also expressed support for the bill to authorize support of the Keystone pipeline. If Obama vetoes it, he said, “we’ll override it.”
A former state senator from Whitefish, Zinke defeated Democrat John Lewis of Helena and Libertarian Mike Fellows of Missoula in November.