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Hatch, Love attract crowds as congressional session gets underway

WASHINGTON — Anyone doubting the mark Utah's congressional delegation is making in Congress had only to spend a few minutes at a reception Tuesday held for Sen. Orrin Hatch after he was sworn in as the Senate's new president pro tempore.

Two Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, joined a crowd that also included both Republican and Democratic senators packed into the Senate Finance Committee room.

Hatch was greeted by applause and whistles when he entered the room, and many of the dignitaries took a turn at the podium to congratulate the Utah Republican on his new role and on becoming chairman of the committee that controls spending.

Ginsburg, who had waited for Hatch to arrive from being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden, left without speaking but paused to allow Weber State University government affairs director Chris Millard to take a selfie with her.

"That's amazing," Millard said of posing for a photograph with the justice, who at 81 is a year older than Hatch. "She's an icon."

Scalia said Hatch has participated in the confirmation hearings of every sitting justice.

"He voted right. He voted for me. He voted for Ruth. Both of those were good calls," Scalia said, calling Hatch a "stout defender" of the courts and "a good friend personally."

Hatch's predecessor as president pro tempore, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., joked he left the office that goes along with the job "in perfect shape with one exception. I cleaned out the liquor cabinet. I knew you wouldn't need that."

Leahy, the only senator who has been in office longer than Hatch, described their friendship as spanning the nearly four decades that have passed since Hatch was elected.

The president pro tempore position is traditionally given to the majority party senator with the most seniority and puts Hatch as third in the line of succession to the presidency behind the vice president and the House speaker.

Hatch, who is now protected by a U.S. Capitol Police security detail, will also preside over the Senate in the vice president's absence and, according to his office, act as an "elder statesman" to build consensus on issues.

He repeatedly acknowledged the Democrats at his reception including possible presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and offered some conciliatory words to the now minority party in both the Senate and the House.

The GOP leadership's intent to return the Senate to what's called "regular order," allowing more votes on amendments and giving more power to committee chairmen, will be good for both Republicans and Democrats, Hatch said.

Reversing the control over the process taken by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may mean the GOP won't have to vote against Democratic President Barack Obama's appointees, Hatch said.

"A president should have the right to pick who he wants for these positions," he said. "Unless there are really good reasons to stop that, I think most of these people deserve a vote up or down."

A new UtahPolicy.com poll by Dan Jones & Associates found that nearly 80 percent of Utahns want the GOP-controlled Congress to work with the president rather than "stand firm without compromise."

But Hatch's role in the takeover of the Senate by the GOP for the first time in eight years as an aggressive fundraiser for Republican candidates in the midterm elections was also noted, by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

"Those of us who are delighted about the new Republican majority, which includes most of us in this room, he is one of the people most responsible for raising the money that allowed us to put him in as president pro tempore today," Wicker said.

Earlier Tuesday, the newest of the six members of Utah's all Republican congressional delegation, Rep. Mia Love, welcomed a steady stream of well-wishers into her office — including her parents — before members of the House were sworn in.

"This is the country of hope and opportunity. This is America," Love's Haitian-born father, Jean Maxine Bourdeau, told reporters, describing himself as proud "to see my daughter here."

Love, the first black Republican woman in Congress, skipped a ceremonial event for the Congressional Black Caucus to attend a breakfast with her fellow members of the House Financial Services Committee.

The 39-year-old former Saratoga Springs mayor, who will be the only Republican in the caucus, said she hopes to create unity as part of the group rather than encourage divisiveness.

"I've always stayed away from a lot of the race issues because I've always said first and foremost, I'm a mom, a wife, I'm an American. I'm not defined by my color or my gender. And I want to make life better for all Americans."

Standing with Love and her family in her ceremonial swearing in photo taken with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was Elder Ronald Rasband of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Presidency of the Seventy.

Rasband, the LDS Church mission president over Love's Connecticut hometown at the time of her conversion and her now husband's mission, provided the Bible she used to take her oath of office, an 1828 Cooperstown Bible, the same version used by Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith.

Love didn't lack for some high-profile members of Congress at her reception.

Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 2012 running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., thanked the crowd "for bringing this budding star to Congress. We're so proud of her. We're so thrilled for her. And we can't wait to see what she's going to do."

Love met behind closed doors with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who has come under fire for reportedly speaking at a white supremacist group in 2002.

She has defended Scalise and said it's time to move on from the controversy. She said he had already thanked her for her support and came over "just to say hello. He wanted me to feel welcome."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsPolitics