Chiesa sworn in as U.S. senator

Jeffrey S. Chiesa, appointed to the Senate seat of the late Frank R. Lautenberg, with Vice President Biden; his wife, Jenny; and children Al and Hannah.
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, appointed to the Senate seat of the late Frank R. Lautenberg, with Vice President Biden; his wife, Jenny; and children Al and Hannah. (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP)
Posted: June 12, 2013

WASHINGTON - Only minutes into his tenure as New Jersey's new U.S. senator, Jeffrey S. Chiesa was wide-eyed.

Vice President Biden, who swore in Chiesa on the Senate floor Monday and then posed for pictures with the new senator's family, invited Chiesa's two young children to "come down to the office" sometime.

Then Biden wanted to talk to Chiesa's mother, Jane, who lives in an assisted-living facility and could not be at the Capitol to see her son, 47, begin his brief tenure as a senator.

"This is cool, this is cool," Chiesa said in gratitude, patting Biden on the back.

"I have a very special person who wants to say hello - the vice president," Chiesa said into the phone.

There was a pause.

"Vice President Biden," he said. "Right now!"

Chiesa, a Republican appointed Friday by Gov. Christie to replace the late Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, has never held elected office and admitted Monday that he has a lot to learn.

When he came to the floor for his first votes, he shook hands with the pages who held the door and the clerks who tallied his vote. He voted "no" on an amendment to a farm bill and then "yes" on the bill itself, which passed with broad bipartisan support.

From the gallery above, his wife, Jenny, and children Al, 14, and Hannah, 12, waved.

"I never thought this was something I was going to have a chance to do," Chiesa said in brief remarks to reporters. "I'm going to do the best that I can."

It has been less than a week since Christie, his longtime ally, offered him the job until an October special election.

"I'm getting my legs steadied underneath me," he said, "and I'll do everything I can to fulfill my obligation to the people I represent."

Chiesa, formerly New Jersey's attorney general, is the first Republican to represent the state in the Senate since Nicholas Brady in 1982 (he was also appointed).

Little is known about Chiesa's views on specific issues, though he described himself last week as a conservative Republican.

Before July 4, he could face a significant vote. The Senate is planning to take up a sweeping immigration-reform bill that has divided Republicans.

"Sen. Chiesa comes at a time in which we are having some momentous debates in this nation," Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), one of the immigration bill's prime sponsors, said on the Senate floor. "I look forward to talking to him about some of those issues."

Chiesa was accompanied throughout the day by Mike Ferguson, a former Republican New Jersey congressman, and was joined at his swearing-in by U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R., N.J.), who represents Chiesa's hometown of Branchburg.

"He feels like he's drinking from a fire hose," Ferguson said.

Chiesa's first key hire is chief of staff Donna Mullins, who once had that job for U.S. Rep. Rodney Freylinghuysen (R., N.J.).

Mullins and Lautenberg's chief of staff, Dan Katz, are to meet Tuesday. Katz said he was working to ensure a smooth transition.

After the official swearing-in, Chiesa and his wife, children, and two sisters held a ceremonial reenactment with Biden. That's when Biden called Chiesa's mother.

When they were done, Biden said to her, "Thanks for calling me Joe."

Then the fun was over. Chiesa had to vote.


Contact Jonathan Tamari at jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari. Read his blog, "Capitol Inq," at www.inquirer.com/CapitolInq.


 

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