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Jones is first Alabama Democrat to sit in the Senate since 1997
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Democrat Doug Jones has been officially sworn in as a U.S. senator, capping the remarkable and improbable political feat of capturing a Senate seat in one of the nation’s most Republican states.
Jones, flanked by former Vice President Joe Biden, was sworn in on January 3 by Vice President Mike Pence, alongside Democrat Tina Smith, who assumed the Senate seat from Minnesota vacated by Al Franken. The ceremony was then re-enacted in the Old Senate Chamber, where Jones was accompanied by his family.
Jones assumed the seat once held by his mentor and former boss, the late U.S. Senator Howell Heflin, who was the last Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State when he retired in 1997.
With Jones in the Senate, Republicans will hold a scant 51-49 advantage. With Pence available to break ties, Democrats need just two Republican votes to stop the majority from passing legislation.
Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, was given little chance to win the seat when a special election was called in April to pick a permanent replacement for Republican Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become U.S. attorney general.
But interest in Jones began picking up after the man picked to fill Session’s seat on a temporary basis, Luther Strange, was defeated in a Republican primary runoff by Roy Moore, the controversial former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And then, a month before the December 12 election, the race was rocked by allegations that Moore had sexually pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Moore vehemently denied the charges. But GOP Senate leaders quickly disavowed him and tried to push him out of the race, to no avail. Alabama Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby was among Moore’s detractors, saying publicly that he would not vote for Moore.
Almost alone among Republicans, President Donald Trump stood by Moore, telling his supporters that letting a “liberal” like Jones into the Senate would harm his agenda. But Republican defections, coupled with a strong turnout by African American voters, put Jones over the top by 22,000 votes.
Jones is one of only five Democrats representing Southern states in the Senate, joining U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida. The other 23 Southern senators are Republicans.
Jones will now serve the remainder of Sessions term, which comes up for election again in 2020.