WASHINGTON (AP) — John Walsh became the newest member of the Senate on Tuesday and faces the challenge of making his appointment more permanent.
The Montana Democrat was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden at a midday ceremony witnessed by family, a fellow Iraq War veteran and a handful of Democratic senators. Walsh, the first Iraq War veteran in the Senate, replaces Max Baucus, who was tapped by President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.
"Look forward to working with you, pal," Biden told Walsh after a second, ceremonial swearing-in in the Old Senate Chamber.
The question is for how long.
Walsh, 53, spent less than a year as Montana's lieutenant governor before announcing last year that he would run for the Senate seat after Baucus said he would retire at the end of his sixth term. The Senate appointment gives Walsh greater name recognition in his bid for the seat and months on the job.
Walsh spent 33 years in the Montana National Guard, and he commanded more than 700 troops in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. He became the state's adjutant general in 2008, resigning from that post in 2012 to run with Gov. Steve Bullock.
"His military background will be received well, as it should be, and now as an incumbent senator he'll be able to point to actual experience," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who added that he hoped Walsh will have some "achievements that will help him get elected."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who hopes Walsh can help Democrats keep their majority, said the newest senator "possesses a true, independent Western spirit and a commendable dedication to the people of Montana. I have no doubt that he will continue to serve his state and our nation with distinction as a United States senator."
In November, Walsh likely will face Republican Rep. Steve Daines, a first-term House member who has attracted strong support from GOP senators in Washington. Amid widespread disapproval of Congress, Walsh could have used his outsider status against Daines in the campaign. Now that advantage is gone.
Republicans said Walsh will be saddled with a voting record open to scrutiny and days spent in Washington instead of campaigning in Montana.
"He's been running as an outsider. This kind of makes him an insider," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who argues that Montana is ready to replace a Democrat with a Republican.
Montana is a top target for Republicans, who need a net gain of six seats to grab majority control of the Senate. Democrats have a 55-45 edge but are defending 21 seats this November, including open seats in Republican-leaning West Virginia and South Dakota.
Walsh, in accepting the Senate appointment, said he did so "knowing that Montana deserves no less than courage and selfless service."
Baucus' departure sets in motion several changes to Senate committee chairmanships. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is slated to replace Baucus as head of the Finance Committee. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., will assume the chairmanship of the Energy panel, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., will likely move from heading Indian Affairs to Small Business.
The committee changes are expected to be finalized later this week.
Women currently head eight of the 20 Senate committees and the number remains unchanged even with Landrieu's move. Still, the number represents 40 percent of the committees.
"We're getting close to where we need to be," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said with a smile.