WASHINGTON, DC (Gray News) – With 220 votes, Rep. Nancy Pelosi made history Thursday by becoming House Speaker for the second time.
Pelosi, D-CA, retook the top position in the chamber, after Democrats succeeded in taking the majority for the first time in eight years during the 2018 midterms. A total of 15 Democrats broke rank and voted against Pelosi, with 12 voting for someone else and three more voting “present.”
The 116th Congress convened and lawmakers were sworn in, establishing the new balance of power in Washington. Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, swore in newly elected and re-elected senators.
"I’m particularly proud to be woman speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks the 100th year of women having the right to vote and that we all have the ability and the privilege to serve with over 100 women members of Congress, the largest number in history,” Pelosi said in her opening address to the chamber.
When she finished speaking, Pelosi gaveled the House to order “on behalf of all America’s children," she said. She then swore in the House members.
President Donald Trump, at an impromptu press conference later in the day, congratulated Pelosi and said he believed he could work with her on legislation.
“I think it’s going to work out, it’s going to be different than a lot of people are thinking,” he said.
Among the first issues the new Congress will take on will be a partial government shutdown that’s stretched on for nearly two weeks. With Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives and Republicans maintaining their majority in the Senate, it’s unclear how or when Congress will reach a compromise.
It could start with a handful of spending bills that Pelosi, plans to pass Thursday.
The November midterms gave the Democrats 235 seats in the House, with Republicans holding 199 – with one seat in North Carolina still undecided due to an election fraud investigation – breaking the Republican hold on power in the lower chamber.
The House has an especially diverse freshman class, including 29-year-old Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Rep.-elects Deb Haaland, D-NM, and Sharice Davids, D-KS, will become the first Native American women to serve in Congress, and Ilhan Omar. D-MN, and Rashida Tlaib, D-MI, will be the first Muslim women to serve.
The Democrats are expected to use their power to put a check on the White House, including possible investigations into the Trump administration and into President Donald Trump himself.
Meanwhile, the Republicans picked up a net gain of two Senate seats in the midterms, giving them a 53-47 majority.
Among the Senate newcomers are former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who won a bitterly contested race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, and Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president and former governor of Massachusetts, who was elected from Utah.
Arizona’s first female senators, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally, will also start work Thursday. McSally, who lost to Sinema in 2018, was appointed to the seat held by the late John McCain.
Overall, the new Congress will have more female legislators than ever before.
Standing in the way of ending the partial government shutdown is Trump’s demand for $5 billion to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers without pay.
Trump and congressional leaders met at the White House on Wednesday to discuss possible solutions to the impasse, but ended the meeting where they started, with Democratic leaders declining to fund the wall and the president refusing to budge on his demands.
Aside from achieving formerly routine fiscal goals, the 116th session will allow 2020 challengers to Trump to essentially audition for the job of chief executive.
A handful of Democratic senators could challenge Trump in his 2020 reelection bid. New Jersey’s Cory Booker, California’s Kamala Harris, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand are possible contenders.
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, might try again after failing to win the 2016 Democratic nomination, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, announced Monday that she’s forming an exploratory committee to run in 2020.