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The new Congress: Pelosi retakes House gavel as shutdown continues

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is joined by her grandchildren and other House member children as she prepares to take the oath of office as the 116th United States Congress convenes on Thursday January 03, 2019 in Washington, D.C.  CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is joined by her grandchildren and other House member children as she prepares to take the oath of office as the 116th United States Congress convenes on Thursday January 03, 2019 in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain
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WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Thursday elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as speaker for a second time, the first day of a new, divided Congress that is more likely to confront President Donald Trump.

The 78-year-old California Democrat drew a standing ovation when she noted that more than 100 women members were serving in the new Congress, the largest number in history. She then spoke of her vision for the House at a time of divided government.

“Our nation is at a historic moment,” Pelosi said. “Two months ago, the American people spoke and demanded a new dawn. They called upon the beauty of our Constitution: Our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy, remembering that the legislative branch is Article I: the first branch of government, coequal to the presidency and to the judiciary.”

She called on lawmakers to “be pioneers of the future” and work to “redeem the promise of the American Dream for every family, advancing progress for every community.”

Pelosi secured the votes of 220 members out of a total of 430 present. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the top Republican in the chamber, received 192 votes.

She also tamped down a challenge from a group of Democratic rebels clamoring for a generational change in leadership. She took over as the partial government shutdown was in its 13th day, with no end in sight to the dispute over Trump’s demand for billions of dollars for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

By the end of the day, Pelosi intends to push through legislation to reopen the government. But it has already been declared dead on arrival in the Republican-led Senate because it won’t meet Trump’s $5.6 billion demand.

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McCarthy struck a note of bipartisanship as he introduced Pelosi, praising the new speaker as “an experienced leader with three decades of service in Congress, a fighter for her causes, and a true trailblazer.”

“We are now entering a period of divided government, but that is no excuse for gridlock and inaction,” McCarthy said. “We are at our best when we focus not on retribution but on building a more perfect union.”

Pelosi was greeted with multiple standing ovations among Democrats as she was nominated by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who hailed her work on behalf of the Democratic agenda.

“Let me be clear, House Democrats are down with NDP - Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi,” Jeffries said, in what was perhaps the first nod to a Naughty by Nature song in a nominating speech for House speaker.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., one of only 13 women in House GOP ranks, nominated McCarthy, praising him as a leader who “will never compromise on our fundamental rights and freedoms” and “stand against the fraud of socialism.”

House Republicans gave several standing ovations, including when Cheney said McCarthy supports efforts to “build the wall.”

Pelosi pledged that the House will be the “champions of the middle class,” protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and ensuring that struggling families have “an economy that works for you.”

And she urged both chambers to “work to put an end to the inaction and denial of science that threaten the planet and the future.”

In what appeared to be a veiled reference to Trump, Pelosi at one point said that lawmakers will “respect each other and we will respect the truth.”

She concluded with a tribute to former president George H.W. Bush, who died last month, and announced that as their first act, House Democrats would be introducing legislation to reopen the government to “meet the needs of the American people, to protect our borders, and to respect our workers.”

Shortly after the Democrats took control of the House on Thursday, Trump took to Twitter to praise Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and assert that the party “has never been stronger.”

“We achieved historic wins with her help last year!” Trump wrote.

In the November midterms, Democrats made a net gain of 40 seats in the House, flipping control of the chamber. Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate by two seats.

The 115th Congress had gaveled out and the 116th convened Thursday afternoon, with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., a United Methodist pastor giving the opening prayer in the House.

“When we leave this place, we will, with your blessing, launch a bold attempt to become the architects of a kindlier nation,” Cleaver said, calling for Congress “to rise as a legislative body above political selfishness” and “address the great challenges of this day, that are fraught with tribalism at home and turbulence abroad.”

After the Pledge of Allegiance, the House began its quorum call. Not present was Mark Harris, the GOP candidate in North Carolina’s 9th District, who said he planned to meet with investigators Thursday amid a probe into election fraud allegations.

Among the special guests present for the proceedings was singer Tony Bennett, who is in the front row of the speaker’s suite overlooking the House floor. Directly behind him is Mickey Hart, drummer of the Grateful Dead. Pelosi’s most loyal backers handed out MADAME SPEAKER pins.

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Meanwhile in the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office to elected members in small groups.

As he prepared for his swearing-in as a senator from Utah, Mitt Romney brushed aside criticism from fellow Republicans over his commentary criticizing Trump.

“I’m not worried about what other people think about what I have to say,” he said. “I just want to hear what they have to say about their priorities and their perspectives.”

Romney, who appeared briefly outside his temporary office in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building, also defended the timing of his words.

“Some people said, ‘Well, you should have waited a couple of months, or four months.’ I’m not sure what makes special one time versus another, other than to do your very best from the beginning to describe what’s important to you,” he said.

Romney said it was “important as I step into the Senate in this new responsibility, to lay out my priorities and my perspectives, which I was able to do.”

In the commentar published in The Washington Post on Tuesday night, Romney said Trump’s “most glaring” shortfall has been in shaping the character of the nation.

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The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis, Elise Viebeck, Paul Kane, Sean Sullivan, David Weigel, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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