Jubilant Democrats on Thursday elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the first woman speaker of the House, the crowning celebration of newfound power the party won in the November electoral sweep.
“I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship, and look forward to working with you on behalf of the American people,” Pelosi said. “In this House, we may belong to different parties, but we serve one country.”
Both Democrats and Republicans pledged cooperation despite years of bitter partisanship and gridlock, to try to get the 110th Congress off on a productive note.
House Democrats also were ready to impose a ban on gifts from lobbyists and a clampdown on travel funded by private interests Ã¢â‚¬â€ measures crafted in response to the ethics scandals that weakened Republicans in last fall’s elections.
The first hours of the new Democratic-held House were devoted to Pelosi’s election and remarks Ã¢â‚¬â€ for which the Californian received numerous standing ovations, especially from the House’s record 71 women lawmakers, thrilled that one of their own had finally ascended to the speakership. Some of the women senators also came to the House side to cheer Pelosi’s history-shattering moment.
“This is an historic moment Ã¢â‚¬â€ for the Congress, and for the women of this country,” Pelosi said. “It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years.”
On the other end of the Capitol, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., a soft-spoken but tough inside player Ã¢â‚¬â€ took the reins of the notoriously unwieldy Senate, promising to “work in a bipartisan basis in an open fashion to solve the problems of the American people.”
Addressing his colleagues Thursday afternoon, Reid vowed to get the Senate back on track after an unproductive past two years.
“Last November, the voters sent us a message Ã¢â‚¬â€ Democrats and Republicans,” Reid said. “The voters are upset with Congress and the partisan gridlock. The voters want a government that focuses on their needs. The voters want change. Together, we must deliver that change.”
“The Democrats are back,” Pelosi said earlier Thursday. She will lead a fractious House divided 233-202, with Democrats claiming control for the first time since 1994.
“The election of 2006 was a call to change Ã¢â‚¬â€ not merely to change the control of Congress, but for a new direction for our country,” Pelosi said. Nowhere were the American people more clear about the need for a new direction than in Iraq. The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end.”
Democrats maintain a tenuous hold on a Senate divided 51-49, with ailing South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson slowly recovering in a Washington hospital weeks after suffering a brain hemorrhage. There are 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans and two independents, who both vote with Democrats.
The fragile Senate margin ensures little Democratic-sponsored legislation can pass without support from at least some Republicans.
“Our efforts are going to be to work in a bipartisan basis in an open fashion to solve the problems of the American people,” Reid said.
Taking the oath of office were 10 new senators Ã¢â‚¬â€ eight of them Democrats, Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Joe Lieberman returned to the Senate for a fourth term after losing a raucous Democratic primary in Connecticut but winning in November running as an Independent.
Vice President Dick Cheney swore in the new and returning senators, beginning with a group including Senate President Pro Tem, Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. Ã¢â‚¬â€ third in the line of presidential succession Ã¢â‚¬â€ elected for a record ninth term. In the gallery overhead, former President Clinton and daughter Chelsea applauded and waved to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who was sworn in for a second term.
The House has 55 new members, all but 13 of them Democrats. Three of them, Baron Hill of Indiana and Texans Nick Lampson and Ciro Rodriguez, had previously served.
As the House gathered, dozens of lawmakers’ children and grandchildren joined them on the floor, including Pelosi’s six grandchildren.
The day capped the rise of several Democratic veterans to powerful committee posts Ã¢â‚¬â€ including Charles Rangel of New York as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and David Obey on the powerful Appropriations panel Ã¢â‚¬â€ after 12 dispiriting years in the minority.
House Republicans, meanwhile, adjusted to their unaccustomed roles out of power, grousing about being shut out of any chance to affect the early agenda.
The convening of the Democratic-led Congress also opened a new chapter in the presidency of Bush, who faces divided government as he cements his legacy in his final two years in the White House. Bush had a light public schedule Thursday, intended at least in part to let the new Congress have its day.
House Democrats planned quick action on legislative priorities that included boosting both the minimum wage and stem cell research. Democrats also said they would pressure President Bush to bring the troops home from Iraq.
The Democratic-led Congress also opened a new chapter in the presidency of Bush, who faces divided government as he cements his legacy in his final two years in the White House.
Pelosi was sworn in as speaker in the afternoon by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest serving member of the House.
Dingell administered the same oath to former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., 12 years ago when Republicans seized the House after 40 years of Democratic control Ã¢â‚¬â€ and he’s set to get back his gavel as the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
House Democrats promised speedy passage of the first six bills on their agenda and a series of stiffer ethics rules.
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