Two months ago, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain was mobbed by crowds everywhere he stepped.
Tuesday, following the swearing in of the 111th Congress, it was a rather melancholy Arizona Republican, now a full-time senator again, quickly traversing the basement tunnels of the U.S. Capitol en route to his office. A lone aide struggled to keep pace behind him.
The senator's thoughts on this historic day?
"I just spent some time with Howard Baker," replied Mr. McCain, speaking of the former Senate majority leader from Tennessee, now 83, who was on hand for the ceremony. "He was such a gentleman, so very courteous. He worked both sides of the aisle, trying to bring everybody together on whatever the issue was back then."
"And Mo Udall's family was here. He was such a classy guy," the senator continued, referring to the late Arizona congressman who ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1976.
Finally, he made a point of saying: "I'm very sad to see John Warner leave." Speaking, of course, of the just-retired Republican senator from Virginia, who had sought bipartisan harmony with every measure introduced on Capitol Hill.
"Let's hope we get back to some of that," Mr. McCain answered.
"It's kind of like the first day of school. I'm still getting used to it," an enthused Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, told Inside the Beltway shortly after he was sworn into office Tuesday.
Mr. Warner in November won the seat of retiring Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican of no relation who served five terms in the Senate before deciding not to seek re-election.
"I am succeeding Senator John Warner, not replacing him," Mr. Warner made a point of stressing.
CHUCK AND THEM
So, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who is your ideal choice to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate?
"I'm keeping counsel strictly to the governor," Mr. Schumer told this column Tuesday. "As Governor David Paterson has said, nothing will be decided until Senator Clinton is approved as the next secretary of state."
Much has been written of late about how New York's senior senator had finally come to grips with the undying celebrity surrounding Mrs. Clinton and her junior New York Senate seat, only to yield now to so much speculation and hype that Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, is waiting in the wings as the Senate's next attention-grabber.
WE SHALL HOPE
As it was, the 111th Congress was sworn in Tuesday minus two senators -- vacant seats in Illinois and Minnesota.
In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken, who just this week was certified the winner of his extremely close contest, must now await a court ruling on the ballot recount being sought by his Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman.
In Illinois, Roland Burris, the would-be junior Democratic senator from Illinois, was turned away from Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony, given his appointment by the embattled Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, who is facing impeachment.
Nevertheless, an optimistic Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, assured this columnist Tuesday: "I don't think it will take long to get everyone in shape."
FREE FOR ALL
Politics aside, Jeff Blyskal, senior editor of Consumer Reports, is under fire from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Writing about money-saving tips, the senior editor revealed that he "reassigned" his two cats to "outdoor instead of indoor status," a move that has saved him "a fortune in cat litter."
PETA, however, is concerned that Mr. Blyskal's pair of free-roaming cats might now contract "feline AIDS" or leukemia, become embroiled in alley fights, get run over by cars, or worse yet "shot by someone who isn't thrilled that the cats are using their flower beds as economy litter boxes."
The animal rights group has published Mr. Blyskal's mailing address, calling on its supporters to level their complaints in writing.