The Democrats Enjoy Their Big Day

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The Hill's surfeit of former cheerleaders, student body presidents and most popular classmates can give the place an eerie, permanent-postgrad feel — a kind of constantly renewed high school scene unfolding amid all the power and prestige of the Capitol. That's especially true on the first day of a new Congress, and today, amid the pomp and revelry of the Democratic takeover, a hundred minor dramas brought it all back.

In the Speaker's lobby just off the House floor, staffers had set up folding tables with packets containing a voting card, lapel pin and license plates for every member. Nancy Pelosi set aside more than three and a half hours for faux-swearing-in photos: the real oath was taken by the entire House on the floor just after noon, but everyone wanted a class-day picture with their families and the new Speaker.

On the Senate side of the Capitol building, the ladies in the basement cafeteria had posted up a color printout with pictures of the new Senators so everyone would recognize them if they stopped in for coffee. Upstairs in the halls off the Senate floor, the eager new members — there are nine of them in the Senate, all Democrats — hugged each other, their senior colleagues, family, staff and the occasional bemused passerby.

Then there were the humiliations some had to endure. The press people for the former House majority whip, and now minority whip, Roy Blunt, used to occupy comfy, spacious digs on one of the Capitol's high floors. This week they found themselves unpacking boxes in a windowless basement room with half a dozen carrels crammed into it and low, buzzing fluorescent light setting an appropriately somber tone for their downfall. Denny Hastert, the hulking former Speaker of the House, shuffled jovially through the halls, no longer second in line for the presidency, with a sharply diminished security staff of one rather short bodyguard. "That's life, you adjust," he said.

Style is as much on everyone's mind as substance. Many were trying to make nice, as members spoke endlessly of the virtues of bipartisanship and pledged to work together. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the new House majority whip and his minority counterpart, Blunt, held a joint event, with Clyburn accepting an actual whip and the pair praising each other. Clyburn said he and Blunt "would continue to have our good working relationship." Blunt, the man in charge of blocking the Democrats' agenda, not only extolled Clyburn, but said "there's a lot to admire about Nancy Pelosi." Clyburn highlighted the tie he was wearing with red and blue stripes as a symbol of how both parties could work together.

That'll pass. Already, the fights are starting. Republicans griped, with no hint of irony, that Pelosi's use of strict rules to bring bills straight to the floor for vote was unfair, though the G.O.P. aggressively used the same tactic when they held control. And while Pelosi will have little difficulty moving bills out of the House in the first hundred hours of her speakership, thanks to the majority-friendly rules of the institution, things will be decidedly slower on the other side of the building. Pelosi's Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Harry Reid, is facing challenges on all three of his first initiatives: lobbying reform, minimum wage and prescription drug reform.

Undoubtedly some of the returnees were secretly thinking about their next break, as the workload has become heavier since last session. Reid has said senators will be expected for votes five days a week — an unheard-of time commitment under G.O.P. rule. And under Reid's new schedule, Congress won't even get its first recess for seven weeks.

— with reporting by Perry Bacon Jr./Washington