Wearing an overcoat he bought just the day before, Brian Schatz deplaned at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington D.C. on an icy-cold Thursday morning and climbed into an SUV for a ride to Capitol Hill.
The lieutenant governor, chosen by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to succeed Sen. Dan Inouye in Washington, was invited by President Obama to join him on Air Force One for the trip to the nation's capital, which got him there within 24 hours of learning he had been picked for the job.
"We're anxious to get to work and see what we can try to avert the fiscal cliff, and I'll be looking forward to supporting the administration's priorities," said Schatz, adding,
"It was a lovely flight. I slept almost the whole way."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who urged a quick appointment while he was in Honolulu for Sen. Inouye's funeral, scheduled a 2 p.m. EST (10 a.m. HST) swearing-in ceremony on the Senate floor. Schatz told the Air Force One pool reporter his family was flying commercial and he hoped to get them to the Capitol for the ceremony.
"We have to aggregate the family and make sure they're in the same room," Schatz said.
Schatz was chairman of Obama's 2008 campaign in Hawaii, and told the pool reporter, "It's not just a matter of him being from Hawaii, but we feel that he represents our values on the national stage."
Abercrombie's decision to name Schatz, after Inouye expressed a personal wish that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa be named, was controversial in some quarters, but means there will not have to be a special election, as would have happened if Hanabusa's House seat had come open.
Majority Leader Reid wanted a quick succession in case of close votes on a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. The Senate came back into session Thursday but the House is effectively still in recess, House Speaker John Boehner having promised his members he would give them 48 hours' notice of the need to return. Boehner has not given that notice, and indeed remained in Ohio himself Thursday.
Concerning the failure to reach agreement, Schatz said, "It's at this stage difficult to understand why we would inflict this on ourselves, and so I'm hoping cooler heads will prevail."
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