Capito sworn in as state’s first female senator

WASHINGTON — West Virginia joined the ranks of states that have had women serve in the U.S. Senate when Shelley Moore Capito officially took office on Tuesday.

The significance of the feat was not lost on Capito, who was joined throughout the day by dozens of politicians offering praise and support as well as a multitude of family members.

“I am humbled to be the first woman from West Virginia to serve in the United States Senate and I truly hope that my service will be a source of inspiration for young women everywhere,” Capito said after she and Sen. Joni Ernst, of Iowa, became the 45th and 46th women to serve in the Senate.

“I think we need more women, quite frankly,” Capito said, during an interview with the Daily Mail on Monday.

Capito was clearly jubilant during a mock swearing-in ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden, as she was joined by her husband, Charles, and several members of her family who made the trip to Washington, D.C., to commemorate the historic event.

Sen. Joe Manchin, who has maintained a close working relationship with Capito over the years, said it is a historic moment for West Virginia.

“I’m anxious to work with Shelley,” he said at a reception on Tuesday. “Hopefully we can show the rest of the 98 senators how we can work together.”

Capito said she is eager to get to work and her main priority remains protecting West Virginia’s energy industry.

She also is fully aware of the fact that the 114th Congress comes on the heels of the two least productive congressional sessions in history.

“The 2014 election was about (the American people) wanting a functioning, working and productive Congress,” Capito said from inside her temporary office in the Russell Senate building, where she will remain for the next several months. “We have a lot to prove. I’m certainly ready to jump in with both feet to end the gridlock and to get West Virginians working and have confidence that our country is moving in the right direction.”

Prior to her official swearing in, Capito said people might be surprised to hear that Republicans and Democrats alike are ready to tackle some very difficult issues, including passing the Keystone XL pipeline.

The controversial project, which hopes to create a $5.4 billion 1,179 mile pipeline from Canada to Texas, has more than 60 Senators co-sponsoring the bill, including Capito and Manchin, a Democrat who is a prime sponsor. The bill is expected to be brought to the House of Representatives for a vote as early as this week. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the pipeline a top priority with the issue already taken up in a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

“I think it’s a win-win for the country and in the end I think the president’s going to believe that; I hope the president believes that,” Capito said.

While the project requires a permit signed by President Barack Obama because it crosses an international border, the president had not offered a position on the issue until Tuesday. As the Republican-controlled Congress was being sworn in, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president wouldn’t sign the legislation if it came to his desk. Obama had previously said he would make a decision based on the pipeline’s potential environmental impact and also questioned the number of jobs the project will create.

There have been a wide range of job projections estimates, including a claim that the project would generate 42,000 jobs. That claim was repeated by Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo., on Sunday.

The State Department estimates the pipeline would “support” 42,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs, nearly all — 99 percent — of which would be temporary. TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline, has estimated the project would create no more than 2,500 to 4,650 temporary direct construction jobs.

But Capito believes in the pipeline’s construction so much that it will be the first piece of legislation that she will sponsor as a senator.

“My number one (priority) is protecting the energy industry in our state — coal and natural gas — and putting people to work,” she said.

Beyond the pipeline, Capito said adopting an overall energy policy is equally as important.

“I’m going to plan to concentrate on that area,” she said, in large part due to political gridlock. “We’ve had opportunity after opportunity to have a comprehensive energy plan and we really haven’t had one.”

Capito admits another reason an energy plan hasn’t been adopted in recent years is because there have been opposing philosophies on energy development.

Typifying a difference in philosophies, over the weekend two Democratic senators — Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. — offered up amendments to the pipeline bill proposed by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. One of the proposed amendments includes a requirement “that for every job created by the pipeline, an equal or greater number of jobs is created through clean energy investments.”

Capito took issue with the specific amendment.

“We’re losing thousands of coal jobs. What kind of replacement job is anybody trying to put in for that?” Capito asked.

While the amendments will likely be discussed in the Senate — McConnell has pledged an open process — Capito said they were more likely “message amendments” and aren’t expected to make it into the final version of the bill.

She said if Congress is able to pass the pipeline bill and the president signs it, the act would be a tell-tale sign.

“It shows the American people yes this new congress can function. They can work together. They can iron out the wrinkles and move forward,” she said.

Beyond energy, Capito said one of the top priorities for the current Congress is addressing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”

Capito admits she certainly would vote in favor of repealing the health care law but that it’d never make it past the president.

“So what are we going to do about it?” she asked.

Capito said removing the individual mandate, which penalizes people who do not have health insurance, would be a step forward, as well as reinforcing the 40-hour workweek.

“There are all kinds of these tentacles out here that I think are really hitting West Virginia working families and at the same time you’re losing your choice in a lot of cases,” Capito said. “We need to really dig down and throw out what’s not working and start over. I don’t think it’s too late to do that.”

Capito said she is looking forward to serving on the Environment and Public Works Committee, where she will work forming a new six-year highway bill.

“That’d have a lot of meaningful funding for roads and bridges in West Virginia,” Capito said. She said projects like Corridor H, the King Coal Highway and Route 35 could benefit from the bill’s passage.

Passing the highway and the XL pipeline bills will “give us and the American people confidence that we can tackle controversial topics like immigration, social security, Medicare and tax reform,” Capito said.

Contact writer Joel Ebert at 304-348-4843 or joel.ebert@dailymailwv.com. Follow him on twitter.com/joelebert29.

By:  Joel Ebert
Source: Charleston Gazette Mail