Brian Schatz, who had been serving as Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, was sworn in today to take the seat of the late U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat who died last week of respiratory complications.
Schatz, 40, was selected for the post yesterday by Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, a fellow Democrat. Abercrombie said his decision was “in the best interest of the party, the state of Hawaii and the nation.”
Inouye, shortly before he died, asked the governor to select U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa to succeed him. “No one or nothing was preordained,” Abercrombie said at the news briefing in Honolulu where he announced Schatz’s selection.
Schatz accompanied President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One on an overnight flight to Washington and took the oath of office, administered by Vice President Joe Biden, this afternoon. Obama returned to the White House after spending Christmas in Hawaii.
“I’m humbled and honored by this opportunity and obligation to serve the people of Hawaii,” Schatz said at yesterday’s news briefing.
He takes office in time to vote on any proposal to avert more than $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases slated to start taking effect next month.
Schatz was elected lieutenant governor on Abercrombie’s ticket in 2010. Previously, he served four terms as a state representative, and he’s a former head of the state’s Democratic Party. He attended Honolulu’s Punahou School, the president’s alma mater, and was the Hawaii spokesman for Obama’s 2008 White House campaign.
Inouye, a Democrat, was the most senior U.S. senator. He was a decorated World War II veteran who had represented Hawaii in Congress since statehood in 1959. After first serving in the House, he won his Senate seat in 1962. He was 88 when he died Dec. 17 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Hanabusa, 61, was one of three finalists for the post selected yesterday as candidates to replace Inouye by the state Democratic Party’s central committee.
“Senator Inouye conveyed his final wish to Governor Abercrombie,” Jennifer Sabas, Inouye’s staff chief, said yesterday in a statement to the Associated Press. “While we are very disappointed that it was not honored, it was the governor’s decision to make.”
A special election to fill the remainder of Inouye’s term, which expires in January 2017, will be held in August 2014, according to Scott Nago, a state elections office spokesman.
Obama was vacationing with his family in his native state this week. His wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and their two children remained in Hawaii. On Dec. 23, the president joined senators and other political figures at a Honolulu memorial service for Inouye.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who also attended the Honolulu service, said in a Dec. 22 statement that he had urged Abercrombie to appoint Inouye’s successor “with due haste.” That way, Reid said, “the people of Hawaii are fully represented in the pivotal decisions the Senate will be making before the end of the year.”
Congress must act by then to thwart the scheduled tax increases and spending reductions. Talks between Obama and leaders of the Republican-controlled House on averting the so- called fiscal cliff have been at a standstill.
With Schatz, the Senate Democratic caucus will number 53, to 47 for Republicans. In the new Congress that convenes on Jan. 3, Democrats will control the Senate 55 to 45.
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