WASHINGTON - Republican Scott Brown took over the seat of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy on Thursday, vowing to be an independent voice in a bitterly divided Senate.
Brown was sworn-in by Vice President Joe Biden Thursday at a Capitol Hill ceremony a week earlier than he originally planned, and just in time to plunge into a partisan fight over President Barack Obama’s choice of a union attorney for a top labor job.
Depending on how Democrats set the Senate’s calendar, Brown’s first vote could be against the confirmation of Craig Becker, a lawyer for the Service Employees International Union, to a seat on the National Labor Relations Board, the federal panel that referees private sector labor-management disputes.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved Becker’s nomination on a party-line 13-10 vote Thursday, sending it to the full Senate.
Republicans have held up Becker’s confirmation for months, saying they fear he might use the post to make labor laws more union-friendly without congressional approval.
Brown, 50, a little-known former state senator, stunned the nation with his upset victory last month over favored Democrat Martha Coakley and put the 2010 midterm elections in play for a possible GOP takeover of Congress. Brown’s win derailed Obama’s health care overhaul and catapulted Brown onto the national stage.
On Wednesday, Brown said he wanted to move up the swearing-in so that he could participate in upcoming Senate votes. On Thursday morning, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick certified the results of Brown’s win, clearing the way for him to take the oath of office.
Conservative radio hosts and newspaper columnists had pressed for Brown to take office earlier.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Paul Kirk had been holding the seat temporarily after being appointed by Patrick after Kennedy’s death.
Brown will fill the last two years of the late Kennedy’s term. Kennedy held the seat for nearly a half-century before he died in August.