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Alex Padilla sworn in as U.S. senator, feeling the weight of ‘the moment’ – Press Telegram

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When Alex Padilla took his seat in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Jan. 20, he was surrounded by “firsts.”

California’s Latino U.S. senator was sworn in by Kamala Harris, the first woman vice president, whose former seat he was appointed to by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

He was joined by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator, and Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s first Jewish senator — and at age 33 the youngest since Joe Biden entered the Senate in 1972 at age 30.

His mother’s Bible in hand and accompanied by fellow U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and longtime friend and lawmaker from the San Fernando Valley, Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Panorama City, right hand raised, the three replied. “I do,” to Harris, who administered the oath. And with applause from the chamber, they were officially sworn in.

California’s incoming US Sen. Alex Padilla, center, poses during the presidential inauguration Wednesday, Jan 20, 20201, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., with Georgia’s new senators the Rev. Raphael Warnock, left, and Jon Ossoff. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Alex Padilla’s office)

“The responsibility of it all is not lost on me,” he said by phone Wednesday, fresh out of a seat outside the chilly Capitol, where in a socially distanced inaugural, he watched in person as Joe Biden became the nation’s 46th president. “It’s a lot of history in one moment.”

For Padilla, it’s a long way from where he grew up in Pacoima — a working-class but poverty-stricken L.A. suburb currently reeling amid the pandemic.

He admitted Wednesday he was thinking about home as he prepared to raise his hand. He thought about history, his wife and children nearby, and his father — who still lives in the home Padilla grew up in — soaking it all up on C-SPAN.

And yet, Padilla, 47, didn’t have much time to reflect on it.

The pandemic, equity issues, and a Senate impeachment trial of former President Trump will fill the agenda for the former California secretary of state. And with Harris as a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, Democrats stand a better chance of getting their legislation through.

Tackling COVID-19 is “urgent,” he said, noting the shortage of vaccine and a “cohesive” national plan that is plaguing the state he now represents, his native community and the nation.

“I am going to push for a more equitable response to the pandemic,” he said, adding that vaccine must get into the arms of people in the most vulnerable segments of the population.

But it also includes pushing for legislation that provides economic relief to those same communities, including more funding for state and local governments.

“Eviction protections expire again at the end of the month for a lot of people across the country,” he said, noting the urgency of keeping tenants afloat in communities like his hometown.

Even before he took office, he called for $2,000 checks for Americans.

“That’s not a stimulus check. That’s simply a survival check that’s long overdue,” he said.

If it wasn’t well known before, Padilla’s path to the Senate is now a nationally known story that many — Padilla included — say is proof that the American dream is still attainable.

His mother, who passed away two years ago, was a housekeeper, traveling from Pacoima each day into affluent surrounding suburbs like Sherman Oaks, to clean houses. His father rose from dishwasher to short-order cook in and around the San Fernando Valley, where he carved out a living at places like Patys in Toluca Lake and Dupar’s, where he took pride “that his kitchen never failed an inspection.”

Both were Mexican immigrants who met in L.A., got their green cards, fell in love and raised a family.

He found his way to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a career as an engineer. Next came the L.A. City Council and the state Legislature. He then won the role of the state’s elections chief, responsible for administering the 2020 vote, the first to include mail-in ballots going to all registered voters.

He intends to leverage that experience in the Senate, where election legislation is likely to be on the agenda, he said.

Wednesday was a busy morning, Padilla said.

It was a bit bittersweet, he said, to watch Wednesday’s events unfold knowing that, just days before, an insurrection gripped the Capitol.

“I was able to witness the moment. I had mixed feelings, to be honest,” he said. “You couldn’t help but feel the surroundings. It was a sad reminder of Jan. 6.”

Padilla knows full well that he arrives in D.C. while a deeply divided nation battles a relentless coronavirus outbreak.

“We are deep in this pandemic,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to get out of it.”

But he is invested in the future.

There’s “a lot of hope and optimism for the days ahead,” he said.

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