WASHINGTON -- Four new U.S. senators have taken the oath of office since the start of the 113th Congress but only one, Cory Booker, New Jersey's new junior senator, has attracted much attention.
Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath to the former Newark mayor on Thursday, drawing robust applause from the unusually packed galleries of the Senate chamber.
More than two dozen fellow Democrats were on hand to welcome Booker to their ranks, along with only three Republicans, including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only other African American in the Senate.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) greeted his new colleague, who built a national following as a problem-solving mayor, with a fist bump. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered gushing praise for Booker's work to "highlight the difficulties of working-poor families."
"I trust that serving in the United States Senate will be among the most rewarding experiences of his life, and he's had many of them," Reid said. "I feel so elated that he's going to be here."
Booker won a special election earlier this month to serve out the unexpired term of Democrat Frank Lautenberg, who died in June at age 89 after a battle with cancer.
Shortly after taking the oath, Booker found himself thrown into one of the most parochial of Senate battles, involving a decades-old rule that gives the minority party the ability to block Senate action on a matter even if it has majority support.
When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appointed a fellow Republican, Jeffrey Chiesa, to serve as an interim senator to replace Lautenberg, Democrats lost what was their 55th vote in the chamber.
With Booker's arrival, Reid immediately called for votes on two of the more controversial pending presidential nominations: Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) as top regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and Patricia Millett to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the top judicial appointment short of the Supreme Court.
Republicans have opposed Watt, saying Obama should not have chosen a politician to serve in a role better suited to a technocrat. They have blocked Millett not based on her qualifications but by making the case that the D.C. Circuit court does not have the workload to justify adding another member.
Despite his star power, Booker was largely silent as he walked the halls of the Capitol on his first day. He is expected to follow in the lead of other high-profile newcomers, such as Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), by focusing on the day-to-day work of a senator rather than, like freshman Republican Ted Cruz, seeking to make a splash on major issues.
Booker did post some messages on Twitter just before taking the oath, however, saying he was "prepping 4 the work ahead, listening to my mother & new Chief of Staff."
In another rarity for a new lawmaker, Booker will later travel to the White House for a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama.