Capitol Hill Welcomes Celebrity Sen. Cory Booker

Booker reflects on his history-making day as one of just two African-Americans senators in Congress.

Posted: 10/31/2013 06:30 PM EDT

Cory Booker began his extraordinary day in the office of Georgia Rep. John Lewis. As he walked through the doors, accompanied by his mother, he was enthralled by the photos hung in Lewis' office that illustrate in black and white the highs and the lows of the civil rights movement.

"I saw on the wall pictures of him on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, pictures of him in Birmingham, pictures of him and others with fire hoses," Booker told reporters at his first press conference as a U.S. senator, adding that it was a "humbling" experience. "I would not be standing here if it wasn't for the extraordinary sacrifices of those who came before me, Blacks and whites … who were called to levels of courage that I will never be asked to show in my life."

Booker said that he is standing on the shoulders of giants, and the fact that he will serve with some of them, including Lewis, who's one of his heroes, "is really emotional and moving."

Still, he was not unaware of the mark he will leave in history books after being sworn-in Thursday morning as the newest U.S. senator, joining South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott as the only other African-American serving in the upper chamber of Congress and one of just four to have ever been elected to that office.

The Senate gallery was nearly overflowing with Booker's family, friends and hometown supporters who came to witness Vice President Joe Biden administer the oath of office to him. In addition, several Democrats from both chambers of Congress, including Rep. James Clyburn and Lewis, who surprised him, were on the floor for the event.

"[Lewis] didn't tell me he was going to show up so to have him standing there as I became one of a handful of African-Americans ever to swear that oath in that chamber was something I will never forget," the New Jersey senator said.

Booker, who is completing the term of late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, and Scott, who was appointed to fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Sen. Jim DeMint, could make history again next year as the first two elected African-Americans serving at the same time. The pair shook hands after the swearing-in.

Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore believes that having Booker in the Senate could greatly benefit African-Americans in terms of access and perspective. Some of the senators she spoke with today, Moore told BET.com, remarked on the lack of diversity in their chamber and how as a result of that "a lot of times they don't get the real man on the street view," of life in African-American communities.

In addition, she said, "institutions that care about the wealth and health of Black people, like the National Urban League and the NAACP, will have an in to this body."

According to Booker, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed a desire to work with him and the hope that he could become a part of helping them all work better together.

"It's amazing that I was not on the floor an hour, and my colleagues were all coming up to me with a real passion to work together to get things done," he told reporters.

The reputation he earned back home for being able to work well with Gov. Chris Christie and other GOP lawmakers, Booker added, "is something I hope can give me some tailwinds in working with other Republicans now."

The enthusiastic welcome he received from GOP senators did not, however, translate into much-needed votes to move forward the nomination of North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The measure, which took place immediately after Booker officially joined the Senate, fell short by three votes.

"I think he's smart enough to know that when you're senator number 100 and the most junior, that you observe, and you seek advice and you listen to the people back home," Rep. G.K. Butterfield told BET.com. "You just take one day at a time."

Booker's first day ended on the same high note on which it began with an Oval office sit-down with President Obama

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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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