Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds the gavel during the first session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol January 3, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Getty/Mark Wilson)

It's official: Nancy Pelosi elected speaker of 116th Congress as Democrats reclaim House majority

The longtime California congresswoman made history in 2007 by becoming the first woman elected speaker of the House


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Shira Tarlo
January 3, 2019 7:33PM (UTC)

It's official: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will wield the speaker's gavel once again. The new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted Pelosi as its speaker on Thursday, cementing her legacy and returning the longtime Democratic leader to the post she first held from 2007 to 2011.

After quelling a small revolt in her own caucus in November, Pelosi, the only woman to ever serve as Speaker of the House, reclaimed the speakership with 220 votes out of a possible 430. Although a fresh crop of Democrats pledged during the 2018 midterm election cycle to oppose Pelosi if they were elected to Congress, only 15 party members ultimately stood by that vow on the chamber floor — 12 voted for someone other than Pelosi, while three simply voted "present."

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"I'm particularly proud to be a woman speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks the 100th year of women having the right to vote," Pelosi said while addressing the new Congress. "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 was previously locked in a heated campaign to reclaim the gavel. Although she has been vilified by both Republicans and Democrats alike, she has appeared immune to the vitriol thrown her way, claiming she "doesn't care" about the number of Democratic candidates on the campaign trail in 2018 who openly opposed her desire to be House Speaker again. "Let them do whatever they want."

She was also able to squash the anti-Pelosi rebellion by arguing that it is wrong to try to give the boot to the highest-ranking woman in Congress in a year that saw a record number of women vying for political office and dozens win. Her advocates worked on drumming up support among caucus members by releasing a letter from women lawmakers demonstrating their support for the California Democrat.

"We took the House of Representatives back. It was one individual who worked with many others but as the leader made it happen," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said last month. "There would not have been an Affordable Care Act without Nancy Pelosi. I was there on economic recovery, and we wouldn't have done that. Major, major pieces of legislation that got passed because of the strength of her knowledge, her experience and the gut about what are the values of this country – and what do we need to do. Therefore, she deserves to be speaker of the House."

In addition, more than a dozen Democratic donors released a letter to the lower chamber of Congress' Democratic caucus in support of Pelosi and warned that they might not be willing to contribute as many funds to Democrats if the next speaker was someone other than Pelosi.

"Because of her diligence, her powers of persuasion, her enormous effectiveness and her adherence to our values, we have provided a portion of the financial resources required to be competitive cycle after cycle," the 16 Democratic donors wrote in their letter.  "When it came to funding this recent effort to retake the Majority, would we have contributed anywhere near as much as we did if Nancy was not the Leader? We think not."

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"[W]e do believe the competence and effectiveness of the Leader is a critical component in motivating us to reach in our pockets. On that basis it is hard to imagine a replacement for Nancy engendering the same level of confidence at this critical time," the donors wrote. "Your recent success in winning the majority is only a first step in changing our country's direction. As critical as it was, the coming cycle is even more so."

Pelosi takes over the speakership on the 13th day of a partial government shutdown after Congress and the White House failed to break a bitter budget standoff over funding for President Donald Trump's long-promised "wall" along the U.S.-Mexico border. By Thursday's end, Pelosi plans to push through legislation that would reopen the government, although the GOP-controlled Senate has vowed not to take up the proposals as Trump has threatened to veto any spending bill that does not include funding for his wall.

Democrats also plan to swiftly pass a sweeping anti-corruption legislative package that aims to stunt the influence of big money in politics, expand voting rights and require presidential nominees to release their tax returns — a direct rebuke of Trump, who has so far refused to do just that.

In her remarks to the new Congress, Pelosi detailed an ambitious agenda for the next two years, which includes: protecting the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits; addressing climate change; cutting prescription drug prices; revamping U.S. infrastructure; ending discrimination against LGBTQ Americans; and protecting those whom she referred to as "our patriotic, courageous Dreamers" – the young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

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Democrats are also prepared to launch multiple investigations into Trump's personal finances, among a flurry of other potential probes, but they see immediately pursuing impeachment as a means of potentially alienating the moderate and independent voters who helped them reclaim the majority in the House of Representatives in November's midterm election.

Before being sworn in as House speaker, Pelosi told NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie that Democrats would wait until the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into allegations of collusion between President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia before deciding on whether to pursue impeachment proceedings against Trump.

"We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason," she said, "And we shouldn’t avoid impeachment for a political reason."

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Pelosi did note that it is possible that Mueller could seek an indictment against the sitting president, despite Justice Department guidelines. "I think that is an open discussion, in terms of the law," she said.

The Office of Legal Counsel's guidance, issued in 2000, says, "The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions."

"It's not the law," Pelosi told Guthrie. "Everything indicates that a president can be indicted after he is no longer president of the United States."

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Guthrie asked, "What about a sitting president?"

"Well, a sitting president when he is no longer president of the United States," Pelosi answered.


Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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