US Politics

Nancy Pelosi reclaims the US Speaker’s chair, under ‘no illusions’ in the age of Trump

  • The start of the new legislative session ushered in an era of divided government in Washington
  • Nancy Pelosi returns to the position she held from 2007 to 2011
PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 5:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 10:56am

Veteran Democratic lawmaker Nancy Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House Thursday for the second time, calling for unity but acknowledging she had “no illusions” that working with Republicans will be easy in the era of Donald Trump.

Democrats have regained control of the House of Representatives in the new Congress, marking a dramatic power shift on Capitol Hill less than two years before the Republican president’s re-election bid.

The start of the new legislative session once again ushered in an era of divided government in Washington, with Democrats intent on checking Trump’s turbulent White House.

Several lawmakers cheered and applauded at length when Pelosi reclaimed the gavel she wielded from 2007 to 2011 – a striking comeback for the only woman ever to hold the post.

Battle-tested Pelosi ‘will cut your head off and you won’t know you’re bleeding’

In her opening speech, Pelosi vowed the new Congress would be “bipartisan and unifying” but acknowledged the reality of Washington’s bitter divisions.

“We have no illusions that our work will be easy, that all of us in this chamber will always agree,” she said.

“But let each of us pledge that when we disagree, we will respect each other and we will respect the truth,” she added, in a likely dig at the president’s aggressive style and his propensity to embellish facts.

While the “blue wave” swept dozens of House Republicans out of Congress last November, Trump’s Republicans managed to expand its majority in the Senate, meaning Washington gridlock is almost certain to deepen.

Vice-President Mike Pence swore in the new senators – 53 Republicans hold the majority over 45 Democrats and two independents who align with them.

Among the newcomers is Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who has emerged as a Trump critic.

No deal: Trump and congress leaders meet to discuss shutdown but fail to find common ground

Pelosi’s reclaiming of the speaker’s gavel is a remarkable revival for a battle-tested politician.

Her first task will be to help end a partial federal government shutdown over Trump’s insistence that lawmakers fund a US-Mexico border wall, now in its 13th day. One quarter of federal agencies are shuttered due to lapsed funding.

Democrats will kick off the legislative work Thursday with a bipartisan bill from last month aimed at reopening government – “to meet the needs of the American people, and to protect our borders,” she said.

But such cooperation across the political aisle appeared unlikely as Trump continued to dig in over his demand that Congress approve a US$5 billion plan to construct a border wall aimed at thwarting illegal immigration – with Democrats unlikely to appease him.

After saying he remained “ready and willing to work with Democrats” late Wednesday, Trump lashed out Thursday.

“The Democrats know they can’t win (in 2020) based on all of the achievements of ‘Trump,’ so they are going all out on the desperately needed Wall and Border Security – and Presidential Harassment,” he tweeted. “For them, strictly politics!”

Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy said divided government was “no excuse for gridlock or inaction,” before handing the gavel to Pelosi, who was elected with 220 votes in a freewheeling session that included children scampering in the chamber.

“We are at our best when we focus not on retribution, but on building a more perfect union,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats would have to “get serious about border security so that a government funding agreement may be reached that can pass the House, earn 60 votes here in the Senate, and receive a presidential signature.”

Pelosi will preside over the most diverse Congress in history.

One hundred House freshmen took the oath of office, including trailblazers like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who at 29 is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

The first two Native American women and first two Muslim women were also elected.

“It’s a new day in America,” tweeted Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee elected from Minnesota.

Progressives will be eager to push back with greater effect against an administration they believe has overstepped its authority.

They will have that opportunity, as congressional panels now led by Democrats are expected to unleash a barrage of investigations on everything from Trump’s income taxes to his ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

That is bad news for White House already besieged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion probe.

And hovering in the background in Washington will be the threat of impeachment.

While it is almost certain that some Democrats will introduce proceedings to remove Trump from office, Pelosi has downplayed the idea.

“It would be very divisive,” she told Elle magazine. “It’s not something that I’m stirring the pot on.”