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As Schmitt is sworn in, divided federal government takes sharper focus

U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt takes a ceremonial oath of office with Vice President Kamala Harris on Jan. 3, 2023. The GOP lawmaker will serve in the minority for the first time in his political career.
U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt takes a ceremonial oath of office with Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday. The GOP lawmaker will serve in the minority for the first time in his political career.

Missouri’s federal delegation got a bit of a makeover on Tuesday when Eric Schmitt was sworn in as the state’s junior U.S. senator.

Flanked by outgoing Sen. Roy Blunt, Schmitt took the oath of office on Tuesday for his six-year term. It was a culmination of sorts of a meticulous rise through state politics that started in city government in Glendale and the halls of Missouri Senate and eventually led to statewide elections as state treasurer, attorney general and finally U.S. senator in November.

In a statement, Schmitt said he will “continue to serve as a champion for all Missourians, to fight for the farmers, the small business owners, and Missouri parents and families, and will continue to push back on government intrusion and overreach at every step.”

“This is a new day, and I’m excited for what comes next,” Schmitt said.

This will be the first time Schmitt has ever served in the minority. With Democrats having a 51-49 majority, University of Missouri-St. Louis political science assistant professor Anita Manion said Schmitt will have to work with Democrats to accomplish significant agenda items.

She noted that Schmitt does have a record of that as a state senator, including passing high-profile legislation overhauling municipal governance after Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson.

“If he can take the approach that he used in the Missouri state legislature, and do more of that reaching across the aisle finding opportunities for consensus, then he does have an opportunity to make an impact as a new junior senator,” Manion said.

Still, Schmitt may be taking a markedly different approach from Blunt when it comes to obtaining money for the state. While Blunt championed getting money for Missouri projects, Schmitt has publicly said he plans to target what he deems wasteful spending and support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced budget.

“So I think it will be interesting to see if Schmitt’s constituents put any pressure on him and if he changes that position,” Manion said.

Bush talks about speaker chaos in the House

While Republicans won’t control the Senate, they do have a narrow majority in the House, which will make it more difficult for Democrats to follow through on President Joe Biden’s agenda.

But Tuesday showcased how delicate that Republican majority could be. For the first time since 1923, the House failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot after some GOP lawmakers rebelled against Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. The House adjourned after three unsuccessful ballots.

“They are not off to a great start.” said U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County.

Bush noted that Republicans often played up the tensions among Democrats but added that they never got to a point where they couldn’t elect a speaker.

“We understand that now going into the minority that we are going to have to stick together as much as we can,” Bush said. “There will be times when we may disagree. But still, just like any family, we have disagreements but still remain a unit.”

Bush was able to deliver funding and policy changes during her first term when her party had unified control of Congress. She acknowledged that getting things done will be more difficult now that the GOP will have control.

But she added that she will still have chances to make her mark, including by working with Biden’s administration. She also noted how she worked with Blunt to secure funding right before the GOP senator left office.

“If we can’t do it working directly with Republicans in the House, we can work with the administration,” Bush said.

Missouri GOP leadership positions

In addition to Schmitt, Missouri's House delegation added two new members with Reps. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, and Mark Alford, R-Raymore.

Burlison served in the Missouri House and Senate, while Alford was a television reporter in Kansas City before transitioning into politics.

Once the GOP eventually elects a speaker, several members of the Missouri delegation will be in line for powerful leadership roles.

Rep. Sam Graves of Tarkio will likely take the helm of a committee handling transportation spending, while Rep. Jason Smith of Salem is seeking out the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Reps. Ann Wagner of Ballwin and Blaine Luetkemeyer of St. Elizabeth could get increased authority in their committees, most notably the Financial Services Committee.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.