Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, spent his first official day in Congress with tears in his eyes during his swearing-in, having his first fight with majority Democrats, worrying about appearing on a national TV comedy show and even criticizing the senior Republican senator in his own Utah delegation.
It was a full day.
Chaffetz was sworn into office Tuesday to his first term, after defeating former Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, began his fifth term, and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, began his fourth term. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, began his 33rd year in the Senate, and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, began his 17th year there.
"It's truly overwhelming," Chaffetz said after his swearing-in with all other 434 House members. "Saying the oath of office, the tears really started swelling. It's such an honor and privilege, and the gravity of what we have in front of us was just absolutely amazing."
For part of the opening ceremonies, his daughters, Kate and Ellis, sat with him on the House floor. They switched off with his son, Max, who was with Chaffetz during his actual swearing-in. Chaffetz's wife, Julie, watched from the gallery, because only House members and their children or grandchildren were allowed on the House floor.
"I'm glad they could all be part of it," he said, noting they quickly left to catch an airplane back to Utah so his children would not miss more school. So after staying with them in a hotel over the weekend, "Tonight's the first night on the cot so we'll see how it goes."
Chaffetz has attracted national attention by deciding to sleep on a cot in his office and showering in the House gym to save money by not renting an apartment. Also, while many other new members of Congress were hosting receptions for friends on Tuesday, Chaffetz chose not to do that, either. "Going along with (the theme) of our campaign, no big, fancy party here," he said.
He cast his first vote for House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, as House speaker. Of course, Republicans lost that to Democrats who chose Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Chaffetz had a ceremonial photo with her later in the day.
Another vote for Chaffetz was against a Democratic package of House rules. "The day wouldn't be complete until I get to vote 'no' on something," he said. He complained those rules "thwart the minority's opportunity to offer amendments and fully debate the issues."
He also spent the day worrying about his appearance on "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central, which aired Tuesday night. Host Stephen Colbert is known for skewering guests, in good fun, on the show. (Follow the link to watch the show. Chaffetz starts at about the 10-minute mark.)
"The scary part is we filmed for three hours for a five-minute segment. So I have no idea what's going to be cut and spliced to make me look like I said something I didn't actually say," he said. "It may be the end of my career. It was nice for a few hours, though."
Chaffetz added, "It's just satire. But there's some Mormon-oriented jokes that maybe I wouldn't want my kids to hear. Ultimately, I think it's the right thing to do. It's fun. It's a way to speak to millions of people. If you can laugh with somebody, then when you discuss more serious issues, you have a chance to make your point."
Another way that Chaffetz did not play it safe on his first day is that he also criticized Hatch, the senior member of the delegation. That came when Chaffetz was told that Hatch helped to introduce a bill on Tuesday that would give the District of Columbia a House seat with full voting rights, and give an additional seat also to Utah a move Chaffetz has opposed.
"I'm disappointed that Sen. Hatch is supporting something that I believe is clearly unconstitutional," Chaffetz said. "I think the Democrats are trying to buy some Republican votes by giving something to Utah that we're already going to get."
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