WASHINGTON -- On the evening before he would be sworn in as the next senator from Maryland, Benjamin L. Cardin's family and friends converged on Washington to celebrate the moment. Cardin, who played on his image as a policy-oriented legislator while campaigning for the office, couldn't resist scheduling a little field trip.
He led a group of supporters to the National Archives, where they examined records of appointments to the Supreme Court, challenges between the executive and legislative branches and the first speech George Washington gave to Congress.
"These documents - along, of course, with the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights - are the foundation of the legislative branch of government, the foundation of the United States Senate," Cardin said. "So I thought it was a good way to start the celebration."
The festivities culminated yesterday in Cardin's swearing-in as the 62nd senator from Maryland. The Democrat succeeds Paul S. Sarbanes, who declined to seek re-election last year after serving 30 years in the upper chamber.
Shortly after noon, Sarbanes joined fellow Marylanders Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer in escorting Cardin onto the Senate floor. There, with his hand on a family Bible, Cardin affirmed the oath administered by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Then he got down to business. Before the day was through, he had filed his first bill as a senator, a measure that would require the government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs.
"I really want people to know I'm ready to start working on issues," said Cardin, who served 20 years in the House of Representatives before moving up to the Senate. "Very few people in our country ever get this opportunity, and I just don't want to waste any time."
While Cardin was moving into Paul Sarbanes' seat, John Sarbanes was claiming Cardin's seat. The 44-year-old Baltimore attorney, son of the former senator, was sworn in yesterday to represent the 3rd District, which includes parts of Baltimore and parts of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
"I'm thrilled to be part of the majority," the younger Sarbanes, like his father a Democrat, told supporters. "I never knew ... when we began this journey 15, 16 months ago that this would happen. So a funny thing happened on the way to the Capitol."
Flanked by his parents, his wife and their three children, Sarbanes spoke about ethics reform, raising the minimum wage, combating global warming and ending what he called the "misadventure" in Iraq. He asked supporters to rededicate themselves to improving their communities and the nation.
Cardin also addressed issues, returning to themes he sounded during his campaign.
"We have inequities in our state," he told more than 500 supporters who packed a reception on Capitol Hill. "If you're African-American, you're twice as likely to be without employment. We've got to do better. This Congress has got to do better. ... This Congress needs to be about creating job opportunities to help all communities in our state."
He called for improvements in education and public transportation. He spoke of advancing universal health coverage, embryonic stem cell research and energy independence. He said it is time to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, an issue he will face as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is to begin hearings on the war next week.
"Throughout the country, from Ohio to Pennsylvania, from Montana to Maryland, the people spoke on November the 7th about change," he said, referring to states were the Democrats gained Senate seats. "It's now our time to bring about those changes."
Cardin was functioning on what he said was a couple of hours' sleep and was working out of a temporary office.
Ranked 91st in seniority among the 100 senators - his 20 years in the House of Representatives and 20 years in the Maryland House of Delegates place him first among incoming senators - he expects that it will be three months before it is his turn to choose a permanent office.
Several times yesterday, Cardin spoke of his father. Meyer M. Cardin, a former member of the House of Delegates and Circuit Court judge, was a fixture of his son's political campaigns. He died in 2005, at age 97, after Cardin entered the Senate race.
"My father was the one who really gave me the confidence and opportunity to run for public office," Cardin said. "I thought about what he had said to me about always being fair and always taking advantage of opportunities, and how proud he would be about me being a United States senator."