Newly elected legislators convened for the first time on Thursday and Rep. Nancy Pelosi was again elected House speaker. She now faces the daunting tasks of unifying the chamber and ending the partial government shutdown as partisan disagreements over the U.S.-Mexico border wall continues to polarize and maim the U.S. government.
This was the second time that Mrs. Pelosi, 78, won the speakership. Born in Baltimore and the daughter of a congressman, Pelosi started out her political career as a campaign volunteer in California and was first elected to Congress in 1987. In 2002, she was first selected as the leader of the caucus. From 2007 to 2011, she served as the first woman House speaker in U.S. history.
Now, in a historical comeback, she defeated her rival, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Cali.), and won the position with 220 votes. Only eighteen votes went to other candidates. Ever since 1955, there was no one but her who lost the speakership only to reclaim it later.
Despite intra-party divisions within the Democratic Party, members stayed unified for Pelosi’s election and showed overwhelming support for the most powerful woman in American politics. Many of them put on blue buttons with “Madame Speaker” printed on them and called Pelosi by her initials NDP.
“She’s like Toscanini conducting a jazz band,” said former congressman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) who went back to the Capitol to celebrate Democrats’ return to power. “Only she can pull it off.”
As the freshman class was being sworn in, progressive changes could be spotted throughout the day. Members could now choose to use holy books of Islamism, Hinduism or Buddhism instead of the Bible when they took their oaths of office. New rules also abolished the ban on religious headwear on the House floor. Moreover, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was formally condemned.
Addressing the new Congress, Pelosi claimed that “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,” she continued.
Pelosi also vowed to push for bills to reopen the government as soon as possible. It had been two weeks since the partial government shutdown began as a result of disagreements over Trump’s border wall funding. Lawmakers became increasingly restless.
“It’s an exciting time, but it’s also a time in which — at least members of the freshman class I’ve spoken to — are eager to get to work,” said Rep. Joseph Neguse (D-Colo.). “No time better than the present to reopen the government and get back to the people’s business.”
There was no doubt that Democrats’ tensions with Trump over a wide range of issues were strong and growing. Pelosi rose to power precisely by taking an ideological stance against the president and pointing out Trump’s policy mistakes. Now that Democrats had control of the House’s oversight committee, they had signaled an intention to investigate Trump’s tax returns and other business dealings.
However, in her speech, Pelosi still pledged to strive for a bipartisan Congress. “I pledge that this Congress will be transparent, bipartisan and unifying,” she said, invoking former Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, though emitting the current president’s name. “[We] will seek to reach across the aisle in this chamber and across the divisions in this great nation.”
During an interview, when asked whether she had plans to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, Pelosi said the House would wait for and respect the finds of Robert Muller’s investigation.
Featured image via Carolyn Kaster/AP