History made as VP Harris swears in Ossoff, Warnock as Georgia senators

    Vice President Kamala Harris swore in Georgia Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock Wednesday, handing control of the Senate to Democrats. The two successfully campaigned together to win a Jan. 5 runoff. Photo contributed by Jon Ossoff's campaign

    Hours after Vice President Kamala Harris carved out her own place in history, she helped cement two historic firsts for Georgia.

    Harris, who is the first woman to serve as the country’s vice president, officiated the oath of office for Jon Ossoff, who is Georgia’s first Jewish senator, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is Georgia’s first Black senator. At 33, Ossoff is also now the youngest member of the Senate.

    The pair, who were sworn in Wednesday afternoon on the Senate floor, were elected in the nationally watched Jan. 5 runoffs. Their upset victories over Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue split the balance of power in the formerly GOP-controlled Senate, giving Harris a tie-breaking vote.

    “This is a great day for Georgia and for our country,” Warnock said in a statement following the ceremony. “Today, my father, a veteran and son of south Georgia, would have been 104 years old. Today, our country’s first Black, woman Vice President swore in his son, Georgia’s first Black United States Senator. That this is even possible is a testament to the promise of our democracy and the covenant we share with one another as Americans.

    “At the same time, our nation faces multiple crises brought into sharper focus by a once in a century pandemic,” he added. “Congress must get to work immediately to overcome the challenges impacting the lives and livelihoods of Georgians, and people across the country.”

    The two candidates, who ran as a unified team, often referenced the historic ties of Atlanta’s Black and Jewish communities when on the campaign trial. Warnock is the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was the home church of Martin Luther King Jr.

    That symbolism continued Wednesday. Ossoff was sworn in using a book of Hebrew scripture once owned by the late Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, who was a civil rights activist and ally of King. Rothschild’s Atlanta church, The Temple, was bombed in 1958. The book was on loan from the rabbi’s family.

    Warnock used the Bible given to him by his congregation when he became senior pastor.

    Ossoff was elected to a six-year term, making him the first Georgia Democrat to be elected to a full term in the Senate since 1996. He beat Perdue by about 55,000 votes after trailing the GOP incumbent by nearly 88,000 votes in November.

    Warnock will serve out the rest of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, which expires in 2022. Loeffler had been appointed to the seat by Gov. Brian Kemp, but Warnock won the runoff by more than 93,000 votes. Warnock will appear on the ballot with Kemp in two years when both are up for reelection.

    She also swore in a third senator, California’s U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, who was appointed to replace Harris and who is the first Latino to represent California in the Senate.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.