Durbin, Dold, Kirk and the new Congress

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WASHINGTON — Two scenes from Tuesday’s opening day of the 114th Congress, where Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., started a fourth term and Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., returned after an involuntary hiatus:

I’m talking with Dold and his mentor, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in Kirk’s Hart Building Senate office under a portrait of the late Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen, a beloved Illinois Republican who served as a Senate minority leader between 1959 and 1969.

Dold is back. Defeated after a single term in 2012, he beat Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., last November to reclaim the north suburban 10th congressional seat once held by Kirk.

Dold and Kirk are of a shrinking breed among Republicans on Capitol Hill. On social issues, they are more moderate than their GOP colleagues, more independent and more bipartisan.

That the House Republicans, who remain in control of the House chamber, have an activist, noisy right wing was vividly demonstrated on Tuesday when 25 Republicans — none from Illinois — refused to vote yes to give House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, another term.

The 10th seat is not safe for Dold and he knows it.

Schneider has not closed the door on a comeback bid, and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rodkin Rotering — whom I spotted in D.C. for Durbin swearing-in celebrations — already has been talking to folks about a congressional run against Dold.

Said Kirk, “In the case of the 10th, you are going to have to earn it each election.”

Seen at Kirk’s opening day office reception: Illinois State GOP Chairman Tim Schneider; GOP national committeeman Richard Porter and former state chair Jack Dorgan.

Kirk and Durbin have forged a bipartisan relationship. They start this Congress wanting to keep their partnership going, even as every sign points to party clashes over the next two years. Kirk is already in his 2016 re-election mode.

Vice President Joe Biden administers the Senate oath to Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill. (left), during a ceremonial re-enactment swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington. Durbin is surrounded by members of his family. | Susan Walsh/AP

Kirk and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., were Durbin’s honorary escort when it was Durbin’s turn to take the oath, though Kirk met them at the well, or the front of the Senate, because Kirk — since his stroke — walks slowly with a cane. Kirk pumped his cane with vigor for Durbin while others applauded.

The Republicans now run the Senate, and Durbin invoked a famous Dirksen quote during a floor speech just after all the new senators were sworn in. Durbin is filling in for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is recovering from a New Year’s Day fall.

Durbin recalled Dirksen once said, “I am a fan of fixed and unbending principle. The first of which is to be flexible at all times.” Continued Durbin, “Let us all try to remember that what we are about is honorable compromise.”

Durbin went on to congratulate new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who took to the floor to jump-start getting another vote on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, announcing a hearing on Wednesday. With more Republicans in the Senate, there are enough votes to pass it.

The White House said Tuesday that President Barack Obama would veto a Keystone bill.

Durbin was able to get the Keystone hearing canceled by objecting to it from the floor.

But a vote on Keystone — and a veto — is only a matter of time.

Spotted at Durbin’s Monday night swearing-in party: Illinois state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

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