Cheering Democrats returned Nancy Pelosi to the House speaker’s post Thursday as the 116th Congress ushered in a historically diverse freshman class eager to confront President Donald Trump in a new era of divided government.
Pelosi, elected speaker 220-192, took the gavel saying U.S. voters “demanded a new dawn” in the November election that swept the Democrats to a House majority and are looking to “the beauty of our Constitution” to provide checks and balances on power.
Pelosi faced 15 dissenting votes from fellow Democrats. But for a few hours, smiles and backslapping were the order of the day. The new speaker invited scores of lawmakers’ kids to join her on the dais as she was sworn in, calling the House to order “on behalf of all of America’s children.”
Huffman speaks out
North Coast U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman was among the Democrats who elevated Pelosi to House speaker and he lauded her skills.
“I am very grateful to have our leadership in this moment,” he told the Times-Standard on Thursday afternoon. “She is one of the only leaders in the country who is up to the task.”
He said she would be “pulling the policy agenda back in the direction of the people rather than the special interests.”
Even Trump congratulated Pelosi during a rare appearance at the White House briefing room, saying her election by House colleagues was “a tremendous, tremendous achievement.” The president has tangled often with Pelosi and is sure to do so again with Democrats controlling the House, but he said, “I think it’ll be a little bit different than a lot of people are thinking.”
As night fell, the House quickly got to work on the partial government shutdown, which was winding up Day 13 with Trump demanding billions in Mexican border wall funding to bring it to an end. Before midnight on Congress’ first day, Democrats planned to approve legislation to re-open the government — but without the $5.6 billion in wall money, which means it has no chance in the Republican Senate.
Huffman called on Trump to play ball in getting the government up and running again.
“The path forward really depends on when Donald Trump is going to climb down from his metaphorical wall and accept the deal he reneged on,” said Huffman. ” … We are going to start passing (a government funding bill) through the new house majority starting tonight and give him a chance to reaccept the original deal.”
But Republicans who control the Senate say they won’t take it up without Trump on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “total nonstarter” and a waste of time.
“I would call it political theater, not productive lawmaking,” McConnell said Thursday, as he opened the new Congress.
Huffman called that kind of stance “indefensible.”
“I think it fairly indefensible to put forward something that you unanimously approved just a few days ago. What has changed other than the fact that Donald Trump threw a hissy fit?” Huffman said. “… Mitch McConnell needs to explain that one to the American people. Hopefully, he hasn’t completely outsourced his decision-making process to Donald Trump and remembers that Congress is an independent branch of government.”
A new Congress
The new Congress is like none other. There are more women than ever before, and a new generation of Muslims, Latinos, Native Americans and African-Americans is creating a House more aligned with the population of the United States. However, the Republican side in the House is still made up mostly of white men, and in the Senate Republicans bolstered their ranks in the majority.
In a nod to the moment, Pelosi, the first female speaker who reclaimed the post she lost to the GOP in 2011, broadly pledged to make Congress work for all Americans — addressing kitchen table issues at a time of deep economic churn — even as her party readies to challenge Trump with investigations and subpoena powers that threaten the White House agenda.
Pelosi promised to “restore integrity to government” and outlined an agenda “to lower health costs and prescription drug prices and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions; to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure from sea to shining sea.”
Huffman said the new Congress opens up some opportunities that have not been followed through on in the past. One of the keys he is hoping for is a “bold plan for transportation and infrastructure.” He said that is an issue the North Coast could benefit from when it comes to the future of Last Chance Grade.
“Being in the majority allows me to look out for the interests of my district, hopefully in a much more productive forum,” he said. “… We have been talking about a big infrastructure bill for years. The Republican majority refused to do anything about it. This new Congress is going to do something bold on transportation and infrastructure. I am going to make sure that projects like Last Chance Grade have a chance for funding.”
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.