‘Ms. Pelosi, I ex­tend to you the gavel’

Newly elected Democrats bring racial, eth­nic, gen­der di­ver­sity to Congress

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Hirschfeld Davis

WASHINGTON » On a day of pomp and pageantry, ebul­lient Democrats as­sumed con­trol of the House on Thurs­day and elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia to be speaker, re­turn­ing her to a his­toric dis­tinc­tion as the first woman to hold the post at the pin­na­cle of power in Congress, sec­ond in line to the pres­i­dency.

The in­vesti­ture of Pelosi, whose tal­ent for leg­isla­tive ma­neu­ver­ing is sur­passed only by her skill at keep­ing her frac­tious party in line, placed her at the ful­crum of di­vided gov­ern­ment op- posite an in­creas­ingly com­bat­ive Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. With Trump, his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and his busi­nesses all un­der fed­eral and state in­ves­ti­ga­tions, her han­dling of him will likely de­fine the 116th Congress.

Her elec­tion came on Day 13 of a gov­ern­ment shut­down that has dra­ma­tized the shift­ing dy­nam­ics in Washington. Trump’s in­sis­tence on a wall on the Mex­i­can bor­der has come to em­body harsh im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies that will run head­long into newly en­er­gized Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion.

Democrats ap­proved leg­is­la­tion to re- open the gov- ern­ment — but with­out the $5.6 bil­lion in wall money, which means it has no chance in the Repub­li­can Se­nate.

On Thurs­day, if only for a few hours, the dark clouds of di­vi­sive pol­i­tics parted long enough for a peace­ful tran­si­tion of power from Repub­li­cans to Democrats, as a ma­jor­ity of law­mak­ers rose in turn from their seats on the House floor to ut­ter Pelosi’s name and for-

mally award her the gavel she re­lin­quished in 2011 af­ter a tea party wave swept Repub­li­cans to power. Fol­low­ing her elec­tion, Pelosi as­cended to the mar­ble dais in the cen­ter of the House cham­ber with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., the in­com­ing mi­nor­ity leader, who handed her the wooden gavel.

“To the speaker of the House, Ms. Pelosi, I ex­tend to you the gavel,” he said. The room erupted into ap­plause as Pelosi held the tool aloft, show­ing it off to her col­leagues.

Scores of newly elected Democrats in the most racially, eth­ni­cally and gen­der­di­verse class in his­tory were on hand for the oc­ca­sion, some of them clad in the tra­di­tional or re­li­gious garb of their com­mu­ni­ties —a Pales­tinian thobe, a Mus­lim hi­jab or head scarf, a Pue­blo dress. The new mem­bers pro­vided the vis­ual tableau of change in a cham­ber that has for cen­turies been over­whelm­ingly white and male.

“When our new mem­bers take the oath, our Congress will be re­freshed, and our democ­racy will be strength­ened by the op­ti­mism, ide­al­ism and pa­tri­o­tism of this trans­for­ma­tive fresh­man class,” Pelosi said in pre­pared re­marks de­liv­ered from the House floor. “Work­ing to­gether, we will re­deem the prom­ise of the Amer­i­can dream for ev­ery fam­ily, ad­vanc­ing progress for ev­ery com­mu­nity.”

Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries of New York, the chair­man of the House Demo­cratic Cau­cus, nom­i­nated Pelosi to be speaker, prompt­ing a stand­ing ova­tion from most of the Demo­cratic side of the House and much of the spec­ta­tors in the gallery.

In nom­i­nat­ing Pelosi in a rous­ing speech, Jef­fries ex­tolled her as “a woman of faith, a lov­ing wife, a mother of five, a grand­mother of nine, a so­phis­ti­cated strate­gist, a leg­endary leg­is­la­tor, a voice for the voice­less, a de­fender of the dis­en­fran­chised, a pow­er­ful, pro­found, prophetic, prin­ci­pled pub­lic ser­vant.”

“House Democrats are down with N.D.P.,” Jef­fries said, us­ing Pelosi’s ini­tials, and ref­er­enc­ing a song by Naughty by Na­ture, “O.P.P.”

But Pelosi’s elec­tion was not with­out dis­sent. Hav­ing spent more than 15 years at the helm of her party and been de­mo­nized by Repub­li­cans dur­ing the midterm con­gres­sional elec­tion as the ul­tra­l­ib­eral face of far­left rad­i­cal­ism, Pelosi, 78, spent the weeks af­ter Democrats won putting down a re­bel­lion over her lead­er­ship in Demo­cratic ranks and con­sol­i­dat­ing sup­port.

She suf­fered more than a dozen de­fec­tions: fresh­man Reps. An­thony Brin­disi of New York, Ja­son Crow of Colorado, Joe Cun­ning­ham of South Carolina, Ben McA­dams of Utah, Max Rose of New York, Mikie Sher­rill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michi­gan, Abi­gail Span­berger of Vir­ginia, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Jared Golden of Maine, as well as Reps. Jim Cooper of Ten­nessee, Ron Kind of Wis­con­sin, Conor Lamb of Penn­syl­va­nia, Kurt Schrader of Ore­gon, and Kath­leen Rice of New York.

Many of the newly elected mem­bers had cam­paigned call­ing for change in Washington and promis­ing not to vote for Pelosi as a re­sult. As part of a fi­nal deal to shore up sup­port, Pelosi agreed to limit her speak­er­ship to four years.

But two of the ring­leaders of the squelched ef­fort to de­pose Pelosi, Reps. Seth Moul­ton of Mas­sachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio, ul­ti­mately voted for her.

With her re- elec­tion, the big­gest Repub­li­can su­per PAC — and the one that ar­guably tried hard­est in 2018 to tie Demo­cratic can­di­dates to Pelosi — prac­ti­cally cel­e­brated. “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,” the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund 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.”

Pelosi be­came the first per­son since Rep. Sam Ray­burn of Texas, more than 60 years ago, to re­claim the position of House speaker.

Even as Pelosi broke his­tor­i­cal bar­ri­ers, the spirit of a new gen­er­a­tion of Democrats was in ev­i­dence in the well of the House on Thurs­day.

Sev­eral law­mak­ers bounced or rocked in­fants as they cast their votes for speaker, while Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio- Cortez of New York, at 29 the youngest per­son to be elected to the House, made a heart sign with her hands — a mil­lenial-ap­proved ges­ture of af­fec­tion — at loved ones in the House gallery above.

For Pelosi, who learned her brand of hy­per-dis­ci­plined and re­la­tion­ship- driven pol­i­tics at the knee of her fa­ther Thomas d’ Ale­san­dro Jr., a Bal­ti­more con­gress­man and later mayor, it was the cul­mi­na­tion of a re­mark­able ca­reer that be­gan when she was a mother and ac­tivist in her San Fran­cisco home and ul­ti­mately took her to the high­est post in Congress.

SAUL LOEB — GETTY IMAGES

New Speaker of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Nancy Pelosi holds the gavel dur­ing the open­ing ses­sion of the 116th Congress at the Capi­tol in Washington, D.C., on Thurs­day.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Fresh­man Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez takes a selfie with Rep. Bar­bara Lee, D-Calif., cen­ter, and Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., at the Capi­tol in Washington on Thurs­day.

CHIP SO­MOD­EV­ILLA — GETTY IMAGES

Mem­bers of Congress con­grat­u­late newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi dur­ing the first ses­sion of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capi­tol in Washington, D.C., on Thurs­day.

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