WASHINGTON >> Brian Schatz was sworn into the U.S. Senate this afternoon to replace the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, entering the nation’s most deliberative legislative body now bitterly divided over fiscal issues that could shrink take-home pay for virtually every American starting Jan. 2.
The 40-year-old former lieutenant governor took his oath in the Senate well, visited Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid briefly in his leadership office suite, then left the Capitol in a large security detail without commenting publicly on his new position.
Later, before a pending vote for relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy, Schatz said in an interview with the Star-Advertiser, "I’m already starting to build relationships — that’s what this is about – building relationships. This was a productive day."
For his swearing-in earlier, Schatz was greeted on the Senate floor by retiring Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, who said Schatz was "a leader for Hawaii’s present and our future."
Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office to Schatz at about 9:30 a.m. in a brief ceremony. Schatz used a traditional Hebrew bible to take the oath, and Reid and Akaka stood at his side.
Schatz was named to replace Inouye, who died Dec. 17, and was remembered here and in Hawaii as one of the nation’s greatest lawmakers and patriots.
Schatz will join Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono to form the Senate’s newest delegation. Both are freshmen, replacing Inouye and Akaka, who between them had nearly a century of experience and clout on Capitol Hill.
After Schatz took the oath, Reid described Schatz as “a young man with a future full of promise and opportunity."
Akaka gave brief remarks from the Senate floor, welcoming the former lieutenant governor to the Senate.
“I welcome him with much aloha, ” Akaka said, adding that Schatz will be a progressive voice for Hawaii, the environment and native Hawaiians.
“He (Schatz) will uphold the values and priorities of our unique state,” Akaka said.
To Schatz, whom Akaka called the junior senator from Hawaii, Akaka said, “Never forget that you are here with a solemn responsibility to do everything you can to represent the people of Hawaii, to make sure that they are represented in every policy discussion.”
Schatz’s wife, Linda Kwok Schatz, their two children and his parents were in Washington to witness the swearing-in ceremony.
Schatz is now the youngest member of the U.S. Senate at age 40. However in January, when the new Congress is sworn in, Schatz will become the second-youngest after 39-year-old Sen.-elect Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
Schatz will become Hawaii’s senior senator when Hirono joins the Senate next week. He will serve the next two years of Inouye’s remaining term which runs through 2016. An election, which Schatz plans to compete in, will be held in 2014 for the final two years of the term.
Schatz arrived in Washington D.C. aboard Air Force One with President Barack Obama this morning, less than 24 hours after being named by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to replace Inouye.
Obama cut short his Hawaii vacation late last night to return to deal with the looming fiscal cliff — a wall of financial issues that must be dealt with before, or shortly after, the New Year. Failure to act would raise taxes on all pay checks, and send dramatic cuts across the federal budget, especially in the Pentagon.
In an interview with reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, Schatz said he talked to the president while on board Air Force One.
"We had a brief chat. We’re anxious to get to work, and see what we can to try to avert the fiscal cliff and I’ll be looking forward to supporting the administration’s priorities," Schatz said.
Schatz, who leaves his post as lieutenant governor to fill Inouye’s seat until a 2014 election, said of his trip aboard Air Force One, "It was a lovely flight. I slept almost the whole way."
He was wearing a new overcoat that he said he just purchased Wednesday in anticipation of the Washington D.C. weather.
Schatz said he was informed of his appointment by Abercrombie at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, an hour before the governor announced it publicly.
He said he didn’t know that he would get to fly on Air Force One until later in the day and that the rest of his family, including his parents, wife and children, flew on a commercial airline to attend today’s swearing-in.
Schatz, who served as the chairman of Obama’s 2008 campaign in Hawaii, said, "I’ve been a supporter of his from the very beginning. For Hawaii it’s not just a matter of him being from Hawaii but we feel that he represents our values on the national stage. That’s what I’m looking forward to supporting."
When asked about the selection process in which Abercrombie chose him over Inouye’s preferred successor, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Schatz echoed remarks he made at Wednesday’s news conference. "No one can fill Sen. Inouye’s shoes, but we’ll all try to walk in his footsteps together.
"His humility, his service to his state and his country, his kind demeanor — we’ll all try to emulate that. But certainly no one can fill his shoes."
Inouye, a Medal of Honor recipient, had a 50-year Senate career, and was Senate president pro tempore, third in the line of succession to the president, when he died.
Schatz abrupt job change came in response to Reid’s request that Abercrombie chose Inouye’s successor quickly so that another Democratic vote was in place for any possible "fiscal cliff" vote in the days ahead.
Of the fiscal cliff crisis, Schatz said this morning, "It’s at this stage difficult to understand why we would inflict this on ourselves. And so I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail and we will be able to avert this disaster.
"Everyone seems to agree that we want to avoid this. There are some practical balanced approaches that have been set forth. And now it’s time, and we’re really running out of time, to negotiate a settlement, which I believe no one will be thrilled with. But the only thing worse than a solution to the fiscal cliff would be actually going over it."
White House media pool reporter Michael Memoli of the Tribune Washington Bureau, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.