Both houses of the new U.S, Congress convened in Washington Wednesday to have their members sworn in to office. Republicans now control the House and have a larger minority in the Senate and are promising to change the way things get done on Capitol Hill. Our correspondent reports on a day of ceremony and celebration before fierce legislative battles begin.
The new Republican-controlled House elected John Boehner to be the new speaker to replace outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by a vote of 241 to 173, with 19 members voting for other lawmakers or voting present. House clerk Lorraine Miller announced the result.
“Therefore the honorable John A. Boehner of the state of Ohio, having received the majority of the votes cast, is duly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives of the 112th Congress,” said Miller.
Nancy Pelosi was the first woman Speaker of the House in U.S. history. The new House Minority leader passed the gavel over to Boehner.
“We now engage in a strong symbol of American democracy – the peaceful and respectful exchange of power. I now pass this gavel, which is larger than most gavels here, but the gavel of choice of Mr. Speaker Boehner,” said Pelosi. “I now pass this gavel and the sacred trust that goes with it to the new Speaker. God bless you Speaker Boehner.”
The House chamber was filled with the newly elected members of Congress, who were accompanied on opening day by their spouses, children and grandchildren and other relatives. Incoming Speaker Boehner greeted his wife, two daughters and 10 of his 11 brothers and sisters who were in the chamber. He wiped tears from his eyes as he gave his first speech as Speaker.
“The American people have humbled us,” said Boehner. “They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House.”
Republicans swept midterm elections across the country in November, resulting in divided government in Washington. Speaker Boehner said voters sent a clear message that they are not happy with the state of the country.
“We gather here today at a time of great challenges. Nearly one in 10 of our neighbors are looking for work. Health care costs are still rising for families and small businesses. Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy. Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress. No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.”
Both Boehner and Pelosi vowed to look for common ground to work across party lines wherever possible. But many of the new lawmakers sworn in Wednesday in the House and Senate are staunch fiscal Republicans supported by Tea Party activists, who advocate a very limited role for government and low taxes and may be reluctant to compromise with Democrats.
One of the first items on House Republicans’ agenda is to cut governments spending, starting with cutting their own operations budget. House Republicans have also vowed to vote next week to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment, health care reform. Efforts to repeal the reform are likely to fail because Democrats still hold a majority in the Senate.
On the Senate side, Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said he will press ahead with President Obama’s agenda to create jobs and put the economy on a more solid footing. But Reid will also face stronger opposition from a strengthened Republican minority.