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Pelosi elected speaker as Dem House takes on Trump

Nancy Pelosi will be the first person in six decades to regain the speaker’s gavel after losing it, a job she first held from 2007-2011. | POLITICO illustration/ AP and Getty images

Congress

The longtime Democratic leader won the gavel after previously dispatching a rebellion in her ranks.

Updated

Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker for the 116th Congress on Thursday, cementing her legacy and returning the longtime Democratic leader to the post she first held eight years ago.

Pelosi, the first and only woman to ever wield the speaker’s gavel, received 220 votes out of the 430 votes cast. Fifteen Democrats defected, with twelve casting votes for other people and three voting “present.” As speaker, Pelosi will be the most prominent Democratic foil to President Donald Trump and second in line to the presidency.

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“Two months ago, the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn,” Pelosi said in a speech after winning the gavel. “I am particularly proud to be the woman speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks 100 years of women winning the right to vote.”

The election marks a triumphant return to the gavel for the California Democrat after a band of a dozen-plus rebels unsuccessfully tried to deny her the speakership late last year. Pelosi is the first person in six decades to regain the speaker’s gavel after losing it, a job she first held from 2007-2011.

This time around, Pelosi will ascend to the speakership in the middle of a partial government shutdown with no end in sight. Still, even with the shadow of the shutdown looming over the new Congress, current and incoming lawmakers exuded that “first day of school” vibe as the official proceedings kicked off shortly after noon.

Many House Democrats wore bright blue buttons next to their traditional member’s pin adorned with the words “Madame Speaker” in bold white letters. And several lawmakers were seen toting their young children around the House as they welcomed new members and said hello to longtime colleagues.

Pelosi, clad in a bright pink dress, entered the chamber with several of her grandchildren in tow, pumping her fists as she walked down the center aisle of the chamber.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) bounced his newborn baby in the aisle as he waited to vote. At one point, Swalwell and freshman Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced their newborns to each other. Freshman Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.), who sat in the row directly behind Pelosi, read a book to his children to keep them entertained during the hour-long vote.

“Let me be clear. House Democrats are down with NDP,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) declared as he officially nominated Pelosi, whose maiden name is D’Alesandro, to the speakership. The Democratic side of the chamber quickly jumped up in a standing ovation.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a former House member himself, was in the chamber and gave Pelosi a hug as the vote kicked off.

Pelosi’s grandchildren helped her cast a vote when her name was called, with granddaughter Bella clutching Pelosi’s hand and excitedly jumping up and down. Democrats again broke out into lengthy applause when Pelosi was officially declared the winner around 2 p.m.

Following the vote, Pelosi was announced as the next speaker and escorted into the chamber, receiving numerous hugs and high fives from her colleagues as she made her way down the center aisle. Members of the California delegation filed in after Pelosi with some lawmakers singing lyrics from “California, Here I come.”

At least two dozen children then excitedly gathered around Pelosi in the well of the chamber as she took the oath of office. “I now call the House to order on behalf of all America’s children,” she said as she banged the gavel.

Legendary crooner Tony Bennett, a guest of Pelosi’s, was spotted in the speaker’s box in the gallery above the chamber. Other guests of Pelosi’s included Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and Project Runway co-host Tim Gunn. Pelosi’s husband, five children and all nine grandchildren were also on hand for the occasion.

Pelosi lost 15 Democrats, a mix of incoming freshmen from red-leaning districts and incumbents who vowed to oppose her on the floor. There was Rep. Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), a vocal Pelosi critic who voted instead for failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who also organized a group of rebels against Pelosi with Rice, backed Rep. Marcia Fudge, the Ohioan who briefly considered challenging Pelosi for speaker.

“Unfortunately I’m very worried that Democrats will lose the majority or are in danger with her at the helm — nothing against her personally,” Schrader said before the vote. “We desperately need a new face of the Democratic Party.”

Freshmen called out several different names. Reps. Jason Crow (Colo.) and Max Rose (N.Y.), both Army veterans, voted for Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee war hero. Rep. Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.) voted for Joe Biden while Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah called out Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s name. Then, Reps. Joe Cunningham (S.C.), Jason Golden (Maine), Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Mikie Sherrill (N.J.) backed Rep. Cheri Bustos, an affable ex-journalist-turned-lawmaker who now runs the Democrats’ House campaign arm.

Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who opposed Pelosi on the floor last Congress, backed Rep. John Lewis — though the civil rights icon just a few weeks ago asked his colleagues not to vote for him because he supports Pelosi. Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, who pioneered the anti-Pelosi campaign rhetoric when he won in a 2017 special election vowing to oppose her in a red district, backed Rep. Joe Kennedy (Mass.)

Three other Democrats, Reps. Jim Cooper (Tenn.) as well as freshmen Reps. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), voted “present,” which actually helped Pelosi by lowering the total vote threshold she needed to clear to win the speakership.

Earlier in the day several new members were still trying to find their way around the Capitol complex and introduce themselves to the police officers who station every entrance.

Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), one several women included in the group of 101 incoming freshmen, was stopped by security as she tried to get to the House to be sworn in. She didn’t yet have a member pin, only a pass. The officer, who did not recognize her, looked at her name on the badge and muttered “bear with me here.”

Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy

It did not put a dent in her excitement to become a member of Congress. “We are energized and we are resolved and we are ready to deliver,” Stevens said enthusiastically as she turned toward the chamber.

And the differences between the Republican and Democratic side of the House were clear.

The GOP, which saw a significant decrease in the number of Republican women after the 2018 election, was represented mainly by white men in dark suits. The Democratic side, meanwhile, welcomed a historic number of female members, many of them clad in bright pops of pink, purple, green and red.

Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, in her nominating speech for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), implored lawmakers to “build the wall,” prompting a standing ovation from GOP lawmakers.

The roll call vote in many ways echoed Pelosi’s history-making election more than a decade ago. As in 2007, Pelosi was surrounded by her grandchildren as she clutched the gavel for the first time on Thursday afternoon. And she again will be flanked by the same two deputies who served under her in the majority last time — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).

But Pelosi also has a clock ticking on her power after cutting a deal with Democratic rebels in December to clinch the votes she needed to become speaker.

As part of the deal, Pelosi agreed to limit herself to two more terms at most. And if she decides to run for speaker in 2020, she must receive the backing of two-thirds of the caucus, a higher threshold than the simple majority she had to clear this time.

Mitt Romney

Pelosi also faces a raft of challenges that didn’t exist the last time she was speaker. Trump, unlike George W. Bush, the last Republican president she served with, is wildly unpredictable, often upending his own White House’s strategy with a single tweet.

Pelosi will also have to corral a boisterous Democratic Caucus, including a large freshmen class brimming with progressives looking to push an aggressive left-leaning agenda and moderates who won Trump districts they hope to hold onto in the next election.

“This is what she has trained for, to be in the majority and have an opportunity to hold this president accountable. And to use her skillset to also try to move progressive legislation,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “I would never underestimate Nancy Pelosi’s ability to do both of those things and do them well.”

Later Thursday, House Democrats are expected to pass a two-part plan to reopen the government. But the proposal, which includes no new money for the border wall, has already been rejected by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Pelosi and the three other congressional leaders have been invited to meet with Trump on Friday in another bid to try to end the nearly two-week stalemate. But Democrats and Republicans remain dug in over Trump’s wall. And Pelosi, emboldened by a new Democratic majority, has repeatedly ruled out giving Trump more money for it.

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