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Jan 3, 2019

The new Congress: Pelosi retakes House gavel as shutdown continues

By Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner


Felicia Sonmez
National reporter on The Washington Post's breaking political news team

John Wagner
National reporter leading The Post's breaking political news team
The House of Representatives elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as speaker for a second time on Thursday, the first day of a new, divided Congress that is more likely to confront President Trump.
The 78-year-old California Democrat secured the votes of 220 members of a total of 430 present. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the top Republican in the chamber, received 192 votes.
Pelosi 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.
3:35 p.m.: New Congress includes 127 women, an all-time high
On Thursday, Pelosi swore into office a record number of women: There are 102 women in the House and 25 in the Senate. They have changed the face of Congress and make up nearly a quarter of the voting membership.
The freshman class in the House is the youngest and most racially diverse in history. It includes the first Muslim and first Native American women. Several states have sent African American women to the House for the first time, and Texas, a state that is 40 percent Hispanic, has elected its first Latinas. Several of the new women identify as lesbian or bisexual. In the Senate, six states are now represented only by women, also a first.
Read more about the new women in Congress here.
2:50 p.m.: Pelosi addresses the House, takes oath of office
Pelosi addressed the House for the first time since being reelected speaker, prompting a standing ovation when she told the assembled lawmakers that she was “particularly proud to be the woman speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks the 100th year of women having the right to vote.”
She drew another standing ovation when she noted that more than 100 female 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.”
She 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 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.”
Pelosi took the oath of office, surrounded by dozens of children and grandchildren of lawmakers, then swore in the other members of the House.
“I now call the House to order on behalf of all of America’s children,” Pelosi said. “Yea, kids!”
2:25 p.m.: McCarthy hands gavel to Pelosi, introduces her as next speaker
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.”
He maintained that his party will refuse to compromise on one core principle. “Republicans will always choose personal freedom over government control,” he said.
But he said that even when both sides disagree with each other, “it is important to remember that we are bonded together in a common cause: our love for America.”
McCarthy then handed the gavel to Pelosi and the two shook hands. Pelosi soon began her remarks and thanked McCarthy, who, seated in the chamber, briefly looked up before appearing to turn back to his phone.
2:20 p.m.: GOP super PAC wastes little time in criticizing Pelosi
A super PAC aligned with Republican leaders of the House criticized Pelosi on Thursday as “an out-of-touch San Francisco liberal” shortly after she prevailed in the vote for speaker.
“Democratic candidates spent the last two years promising voters that they’d be different — they wouldn’t stand for the same old leadership and the same old way of doing business in Washington,” Dan Conston, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Yet with the very first chance they got, they broke their word and their bond with the voters who elected them. CLF will make sure voters know that their member of Congress already broke their word, all to support an out-of-touch San Francisco liberal who is desperate to hold on to power.”
2:15 p.m.: McConnell says ‘no particular role’ for him in shutdown negotiations
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) distanced himself Thursday from the tense negotiations over border security funding and the partial government shutdown, which is in its 13th day.
“I haven’t been sidelined — it’s just that there’s no particular role for me to play when you have this setup,” he told reporters.
McConnell, who has been at the center of breaking logjams between Democrats and Republicans, made clear that he sees a different dynamic in this standoff.
Last month, McConnell cleared the way for the Senate to unanimously approve a measure to avert a shutdown — only to be thwarted by Trump, who refused to support the agreement, over his demands for border wall funding.
Since then, McConnell has stepped back, asserting repeatedly that he will only hold another vote on a bill that Trump agrees to sign and that also has the necessary Democratic backing to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
“Ultimately the solution to this is a deal between the president and Nancy and Chuck because we need some of Chuck’s votes and obviously we need Nancy’s support,” said McConnell, referring to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Pelosi.
McConnell said several Democrats have asked him to get involved, “but I don’t see how that leads to an outcome, and I want to get an outcome.”
1:45 p.m.: Pelosi reclaims the House speaker’s gavel
Pelosi won the speakership Thursday afternoon, in a House vote that was marked by the defections of 15 Democrats. The number of defections was fewer than the roughly three-dozen members who did not vote for Pelosi in November’s closed-door House Democratic caucus session.
On the Republican side, six members voted for someone other than McCarthy. The Post’s Mike DeBonis has the full breakdown:
1:15 p.m.: White House issues new warning against aggressive oversight
As the House voted Thursday for its next speaker, the White House issued a fresh warning about investigating President Trump.
“If the Democrats go down that losing pathway of just focusing on subpoenas, I think it will hurt them in the long run,” White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said during an interview on Fox News.
Schlapp said that Trump “wants to work on policy,” citing infrastructure and trade as two issues on which he and Congress could work together.
On the day after the November midterms, Trump threatened to adopt a “warlike posture” against Democrats if they used their newly won control of the House to investigate his financial and political dealings.
The signs point to Democrats aggressively using their oversight power.
Earlier this month, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, fired off more than 50 letters seeking documents on a wide array of issues, including Ivanka Trump’s email practices, the Trump administration’s policy of family separations at the border, and its handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
1 p.m.: House begins vote for speaker
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 Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) 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.”
12:50 p.m.: Trump touts strength of GOP as Democrats take control of House
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.
The RNC has a great Chairwoman in Ronna McDaniel and the @GOP has never been stronger. We achieved historic wins with her help last year! #MAGA🇺🇸
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2019
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.
12 p.m.: 116th Congress convenes
The 115th Congress gaveled out and the 116th convened Thursday afternoon, with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (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 is 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 is 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 are wearing and handing out MADAME SPEAKER pins.
Meanwhile in the Senate, Vice President Pence began administering the oath of office to elected members in small groups.
11:45 a.m.: Romney brushes aside criticism over op-ed
As he prepared for his swearing-in as a senator from Utah, Mitt Romney brushed aside criticism from fellow Republicans over his op-ed criticizing President 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 op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday night, Romney said Trump’s “most glaring” shortfall has been in shaping the character of the nation.
On Wednesday, Trump responded on Twitter, imploring Romney to be a “team player.” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also chided Romney — her uncle — saying the piece was “disappointing and unproductive.”
11:30 a.m.: Democrats to hold hearing on Medicare-for-all legislation
The new Democratic majority in the House will hold the first hearings on Medicare-for-all legislation, a longtime goal of the party’s left, after Pelosi lent her support for the process.
“It’s a huge step forward to have the speaker’s support,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who will be the House sponsor of the legislation, usually denoted as HR 676. “We have to push on the inside while continuing to build support for this on the outside.”
Some version of universal health care has been a Democratic goal for decades. The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, first introduced in 2003 by then-Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, has become the vehicle for Democrats who want to bring single-payer, Canada-style health care to the United States.
Read more from The Post’s David Weigel here.
11:20 a.m.: Trump mocks Elizabeth Warren, a potential 2020 rival
As the new Congress prepared to convene, Trump took to Twitter to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a potential 2020 presidential rival, for her claim of Native American heritage.
Trump shared a doctored bumper sticker for Warren, who announced earlier this week that she was launching a presidential exploratory committee. Instead of “Warren 2020,” the bumper sticker was altered to say “Warren 1/2020th.”
That’s a reference to Warren’s decision in October to release results of a DNA test that said she probably had a distant Native American ancestor. The report found the ancestor was possibly six to 10 generations back.
Asked about Trump’s tweet, Warren told reporters that Trump should spend his time “getting the government back open.”
10:45 a.m.: More blame Trump for shutdown than Democrats, poll finds
A new poll finds more Americans are blaming President Trump than Democrats for the partial government shutdown, but there has been little change in his overall job rating.
Forty eight percent say Trump is most to blame for the shutdown, while 35 percent blame congressional Democrats and 4 percent blame congressional Republicans, according to the Economist/YouGov survey released Wednesday.


When asked to assess blame individually, 53 percent say Trump deserves “a lot” of blame for causing the shutdown, while 41 percent blame Democrats in Congress a lot and 40 percent blame Republicans in Congress a lot.
Trump’s job approval rating has changed little since the shutdown began, according to the poll, standing at 42 percent approving with 51 percent disapproving.
In a poll late last month, 43 percent approved while 50 percent disapproved.
Part of the stability in Trump’s rating is the deeply partisan nature of blame for the shutdown.
Only 12 percent of Trump’s 2016 voters say he deserves “a lot” of blame for the shutdown, compared with 92 percent of Clinton voters and 86 percent of Democrats.
There’s still more risk for him though, with independents saying by 44 percent to 29 percent that Trump is most to blame for the shutdown rather than Democrats in Congress.
10:15 a.m.: California Democrat plans to introduce articles of impeachment
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) plans to introduce articles of impeachment against Trump on the opening day of the 116th Congress.
Sherman is accusing Trump of obstructing justice by firing former FBI director James B. Comey in 2017, among other alleged misdeeds.
“There is no reason it shouldn’t be before the Congress,” Sherman told the Los Angeles Times. “Every day, Donald Trump shows that leaving the White House would be good for our country.”
Sherman previously introduced articles of impeachment in 2017, when Republicans controlled the House.
Pelosi said in an interview broadcast Thursday that a decision about impeachment should be guided by a forthcoming report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
“We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report,” Pelosi said. “We shouldn’t be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn’t avoid impeachment for a political reason. So we’ll just have to see how it comes.”
9:45 a.m.: Trump attributes shutdown to 2020 presidential politics
Trump went on Twitter hours before the new Congress convened to assert that the partial government shutdown was the result of Democratic posturing in advance of the 2020 presidential election.
The Shutdown is only because of the 2020 Presidential Election. The Democrats know they can’t win based on all of the achievements of “Trump,” so they are going all out on the desperately needed Wall and Border Security - and Presidential Harassment. For them, strictly politics!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2019
“The Shutdown is only because of the 2020 Presidential Election,” Trump wrote. “The Democrats know they can’t win based on all of the achievements of ‘Trump,’ so they are going all out on the desperately needed Wall and Border Security — and Presidential Harassment. For them, strictly politics!”
“Presidential Harassment” is a term Trump has appropriated from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) meant to convey overly aggressive oversight of the administration.
9:15 a.m.: Quadriplegic lawmaker to preside over House on opening day
Pelosi has designated Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the first quadriplegic elected to Congress, to preside over debate on Thursday afternoon.
The move is intended to highlight what Democratic leaders say is a commitment to creating a more inclusive government.
Langevin, who has served in Congress since 2001, is co-chairman of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus.
“Together, we are proudly reaffirming a fundamental truth: that in our nation, we respect people for what they can do, not judge them for what they cannot do,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Her office noted that Langevin will use a podium lift system that was installed during Pelosi’s previous tenure as speaker.
7:45 a.m. Kellyanne Conway knocks Pelosi for insulting Trump
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Thursday that Pelosi showed “very poor form” in a television interview by insulting President Trump.
Conway was objecting to comments made by Pelosi about Trump’s relationships with women during an interview broadcast Thursday morning on NBC’s “Today” show.
“I don’t know if he knows how to deal with women in power and women with strength, but we’ll see,” Pelosi said. “Let’s hope for the best in that regard.”
Appearing on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” Conway noted that Trump has women as senior advisers in the White House and his Cabinet.
During the interview, Conway also knocked Democratic leaders for their refusal to meet Trump’s demand for more than $5 billion in border wall funding.
Conway said Democrats need to show “more seriousness of purpose” on the issue, which is at the center of a partial government shutdown.
“They don’t want to hear the facts and the figures,” she said. “They’re now turning a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis.”
7:30 a.m.: Pelosi says it might be possible to indict a sitting president
Pelosi said in an interview broadcast Thursday that she considers the question of whether a sitting president can be indicted an “open discussion.”
Her comments come as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III continues to investigate a range of issues stemming from Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Under current Justice Department guidelines, presidents cannot be indicted while in office but can be charged with crimes after they leave the White House.
“I do not think that is conclusive, no I do not,” Pelosi said during an interview on NBC.
Pelosi said it is clear that a president can be indicted after leaving office. Pressed by NBC’s Savannah Guthrie as to whether a president could be indicted while in office, Pelosi said: “I think that is an open discussion in terms of the law.”
Legal scholars are divided on the issue.
During the interview, Pelosi also said that discussions about impeaching Trump should be guided by an anticipated report from Mueller.
“We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report,” she said. “We shouldn’t be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn’t avoid impeachment for a political reason. So we’ll just have to see how it comes.”
7:15 a.m.: Pelosi: ‘This is the Trump shutdown through and through’
Pelosi blamed Trump “through and through” for the partial government shutdown and said it’s a challenge to negotiate with him during an television interview broadcast Thursday.
Her comments come amid a funding dispute over Trump’s promised border wall that has shuttered about a quarter of the federal government.
“This is the Trump shutdown through and through,” Pelosi said on NBC. “There’s no escaping that for him. That doesn’t mean we take any joy in the fact that there is a Trump shutdown. We want government to open.”
In the interview, which was recorded Wednesday, Pelosi said Democrats have “nothing to do” with the stalemate, saying it is the result of a “ridiculous” campaign promise by Trump.
“When you’re negotiating with someone, you have to know — you stipulate to some fact,” she added. “It’s hard to do that with the president because he resists science, evidence, data, truth. It’s hard to pin the president down on the facts.”
Pelosi also took aim at Trump for his assertion that Mexico would be paying for a border wall through savings achieved by a renegotiated trade deal.
“The president either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or doesn’t want to know what he’s talking about,” she said. “There’s no way that money from a trade agreement makes a profit that goes to pay for a wall.”
6 a.m.: Pelosi to call on House to address income disparity
Pelosi plans to call for “bold thinking” on income disparity as she lists priorities for the new Congress after taking the gavel as speaker on Thursday.
In excerpts of planned remarks released by her office, Pelosi says income disparity “is at the root of the crisis of confidence felt by so many Americans.”
“We must be champions of the middle class, and all those who aspire to it — because the middle class is the backbone of democracy,” she says.
In her remarks, Pelosi will also call on Congress to address climate change, calling that “a moral decision to be good stewards of God’s creation,” and advocate for lower prescription drug prices and investing in “green and modern infrastructure.”
Mike DeBonis, Elise Viebeck, Paul Kane, Sean Sullivan, David Weigel, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.