Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith was sworn in as the first female senator from Mississippi on Monday, bringing a record number of 23 women serving in the U.S. Senate.
“Congratulations senator,” Pence told her after administering the oath of office. “And welcome.”
Senators in the chamber applauded and some came forward to shake her hand, including Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
Hyde-Smith, who served as the state's agriculture and commerce commissioner, was appointed to fill the seat of former Sen. Thad Cochran, who resigned effective April 1 due to health problems.
She is the first female lawmaker in Congress from the Magnolia State and her historic entry into the Senate comes on the heels of another first for the upper chamber: Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth became the first senator to give birth while in office when she delivered her second daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, on Monday.
Her first vote in the Senate is scheduled for Monday evening on the nomination of Claria Horn Boom of Kentucky to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky.
Hyde-Smith will serve in the seat until the Nov. 6 special election to fill out the rest of Cochran's term, which expires in January 2020. She is a beef cattle farmer who has served in the Mississippi State Senate from 2000 to 2012.
She drew fire in 2010 when she switched parties from Democrat to Republican. Her background in the other party led to reports that some Republicans have questioned appointing a former Democrat to the seat, particularly since state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a conservative favorite, is running the special election.
Cochran, a legend in the state, served in the seat since 1978.
After he announced his retirement, McDaniel announced he would run in the special election for Cochran’s seat instead of challenging Wicker, who is also on the ballot this fall.
When the governor announced her appointment in March, Hyde-Smith emphasized her conservative credentials.
“I've been conservative all of my life and that's demonstrated by my conservative voting record as a three-term state senator and my conservative accomplishments as Agriculture Commissioner," she said.
She also touted her support of President Donald Trump, saying she looked forward to working with him on the “policies and principles that are making America great again."
On the Democratic side, former Rep. Mike Espy, who also served as Bill Clinton’s agricultural secretary, is running for the seat. In 1986, Espy became the first African American since Reconstruction to win a congressional seat in Mississippi.
There is no primary in Mississippi’s special election. If no candidate garners a majority, the top two vote-getters face off in a run-off later in November.