JANUARY 3, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nancy Pelosi won her fourth term as House speaker on Sunday, showing in the first vote of the new session of Congress how her narrow majority will make it difficult for House Democrats to pass legislation in the new Congress.
The 80-year-old California Democrat, who has led her party in the chamber since 2003, won in a 216-209 vote between her and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), with five Democrats voting present or for someone besides the speaker. The daughter of a congressman from Baltimore, she is the first woman speaker and the first since 1955 to lose the gavel and regain it. She ran unchallenged for the position.
To win the speakership, Mrs. Pelosi had to carry a majority of those present and voting by name. Democrats have 222 seats to Republicans’ 211 because one race in New York is still in dispute, and a seat in Louisiana is vacant because Republican Rep.-elect Luke Letlow died on Tuesday from complications of Covid-19.
“Nancy Pelosi believes that our sacred mission is to continue America’s long, necessary and majestic march toward a more perfect union,” Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.) said when he nominated the speaker on the House Floor.
Some lawmakers voted behind plexiglass because they had recently been exposed to the coronavirus, though they had tested negative for Covid-19. Rather than assemble at once, House lawmakers entered the chamber in small groups for social distancing.
Republicans objected to the plexiglass structure, which they said Democrats surprised them with to allow Mrs. Pelosi to get more votes for speaker.
“The lack of communication with the minority makes this 100% political,” said Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee. “To build a structure like that, in the dark of night, to only protect the votes that Speaker Pelosi needs to get re-elected speaker, is shameful.”
Under the Constitution, Congress starts on Jan. 3. In the past, when Congress has been set to open on a Sunday, lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement to move the date. However, this year Democrats wanted to avoid a chance for President Trump to make recess appointments, and wanted to be ready for the joint session Wednesday to ratify Democrat President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win, the final formal step ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration.
Some Republicans plan to raise challenges to some of the states’ results on Wednesday, alleging election irregularities. Their objections could force debate and votes in both chambers of Congress.
Congresswoman-elect Sara Jacobs said she arrived early to Washington to quarantine and take a Covid-19 test before she is sworn in on Sunday. Only new members received a ticket for a guest. Ms. Jacobs gave hers to her father.
The California Democrat said she wanted Congress to first take up another coronavirus aid package and said her focus on opening day was “making sure that we are celebrating the day but also being safe and as responsible as possible.”
The new Congress will be more diverse than the session before it, with more women and more people of color. At least 118 women will serve in the U.S. House, beating the previous record of 102 set in 2019. Of those, 29 are Republican, breaking the previous GOP record of 25 set in 2006, according to an analysis by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
It is expected to be Mrs. Pelosi’s last term as speaker. In 2018, to win the support of detractors, she said she would only seek a fourth and final term if she had the support of two-thirds of her caucus. She ran unopposed in her conference.
“The question is: Are you going to empower the Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, to which the answer is no,” said Congressman-elect Mondaire Jones, an incoming New York Democrat, who plans to back Mrs. Pelosi. An outspoken progressive and one of the first openly gay Black men to be elected to Congress, he said he is ready to push the party to take up Medicare for All and climate legislation.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.) voted present for the speaker as did two other Democrats, Reps. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey. Rep. Jared Golden (D., Maine) voted for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), and Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Pa.) voted for Mr. Jeffries.
All first won in the 2018 election cycle and campaigned on wanting new leadership in Congress.
“It’s important to me that I live up to the commitments I make to my district,” Ms. Slotkin told reporters. “I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for more Midwestern leaders, people who represent areas like where I’m from.”
Lawmakers won’t be able to vote by proxy as they have done during the pandemic until Congress passes its new rules package on Monday. The rules package will implement remote voting as well as several procedural changes. One major change will be that the motion to recommit, a procedural vote that allowed the minority to amend a bill just before it passed, will now send the bill back to the committee of jurisdiction.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) criticized the move, saying on Twitter that Democratic leadership was “invoking the nuclear option to silence the People’s voice.” Democrats counter that the procedural vote had become weaponized by the minority and that Republicans weren’t amending the bill in good faith because they often ended up still voting against the final bill.
Mrs. Pelosi’s house in San Francisco was vandalized late last week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle and other news outlets. Someone appeared to leave a pig’s head on the sidewalk in front of her house, they said. Mrs. Pelosi’s office declined to comment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home in Louisville, Ky., also was vandalized. “Were’s my money” was spray painted on his door, an apparent misspelled reference to the debate over whether to approve sending $2,000 direct checks to many Americans as financial assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mrs. Pelosi’s house also was spray-painted with references to the $2,000 checks.
President Trump pushed Congress to pass legislation sending $2,000 direct checks to many Americans. Mr. McConnell indicated last week he would not hold a stand-alone Senate vote on the checks, saying they needed to be considered with other concerns Mr. Trump has raised.
“Vandalism and the politics of fear have no place in our society,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement Saturday. “My wife and I have never been intimidated by this toxic playbook. We just hope our neighbors in Louisville aren’t too inconvenienced by this radical tantrum.”