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The Unforgettable 107th Congress

November 22, 2002

Over the course of its 656 days in session, from January 3, 2001 to November 22, 2002, the 107th Congress proved to be, in the title of a 2003 memoir by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Like No Other Time.

The story of the extraordinary 107th began on election day in November 2000, when—for the first time in history—voters knowingly elected a deceased candidate, Mel Carnahan of Missouri, to a Senate seat.  Also on November 7, New York voters chose the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as that state’s first woman senator.  With the appointment of Carnahan’s widow, Jean, to his vacant seat, the number of incumbent women senators rose to a record-breaking 13.

The 2000 election also produced for the first time a Senate with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.  This placed the Senate under Democratic control for the initial 17 days of the new Congress, with outgoing Vice President Al Gore providing the tie-breaking vote on organizational matters.  On January 20, the majority shifted to the Republicans with the swearing-in of Vice President Dick Cheney.

On May 24, 2001, Vermont Republican James Jeffords shocked his colleagues and the nation by announcing that he would leave his party to become an Independent and would caucus with the Democratic Party.  His action returned Democrats to the majority.  Never before the 107th Congress had party control formally shifted within the course of a two-year congressional term.

The September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon forced a brief evacuation of the Capitol Building for the first time since the War of 1812.  Discovery five weeks later of an envelope containing lethal anthrax spores in the Hart Senate Office Building mail room of Majority Leader Daschle resulted in that building’s closure—and displacement of the 50 senators with offices there—for three months.

The November 2002 election produced the fourth party shift of the session as Missouri Republican Jim Talent defeated appointed Senator Jean Carnahan, thereby becoming eligible to take his oath of office in the waning days of the 107th.  

This extraordinary session ended with the celebration of the 100th birthday of South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond, the oldest member in Senate history, and the swearing-in of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Senate’s 14th woman member.  Murkowski became the first senator appointed by her father, an incumbent governor and former senator whose resignation created the vacancy that he appointed her to fill.

Reference Items:

Daschle, Tom. Like No Other Time: The 107th Congress and the Two Years That Changed America Forever. New York: Crown, 2003.