Pelosi becomes first woman House speaker
POSTED: 4:28 a.m. EST, January 5, 2007
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, receives the House gavel Thursday in the traditional ceremony.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Rep. Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House of Representatives on Thursday, as Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress.
"I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship," Pelosi said, taking the symbol of her new job from Republican minority leader John Boehner.
Cheers of the Democrats almost drowned out the clerk of the House’s announcement that Pelosi was elected speaker by 233 votes to 202 — reflecting the number of seats held by each party.
In the Senate, Harry Reid took charge as majority leader, sealing the power shift to the Democrats, who have spent most of the past dozen years in the minority.
Pelosi stressed that she wanted cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, echoing similar calls by President Bush on Wednesday as well as Boehner, who addressed the House before her.
"In this House, we may be different parties, but we serve one country," she said.
Pelosi noted that her election marked "an historic moment for the women of America."
"It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights.
"But women weren’t just waiting," she continued. "women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal.
"For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling.
Pelosi then moved on to promote her party’s agenda.
She urged Congress to hit the ground running and pass legislation quickly to ensure it will be the "most honest and open Congress in history."
House Democrats want to use the first 100 hours of legislative work of the new Congress to reform lobbying, push raises to the national minimum wage, implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and reduce prescription drug costs for seniors and college loan interest rates for students. Lobbying reform will be taken up first.
Reid outlined the same agenda but said the Senate would maintain its historical role of reviewing legislation at a slower pace.
"It is important that we legislate the right way, with the best information available," he said.
A national poll released this week showed Democrats have strong support for nearly all the measures they want to pass in their first days in charge. But Democrats’ thin hold on power ensures that any successful legislation must have at least some GOP support.
The Senate is divided 51-49, with two senators elected as independents caucusing with the Democrats. South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson, who is recovering from a brain hemorrhage, was not present.
Integrity tops to-do list
Before the House and Senate were called to order, Reid invited Democrats and Republicans to a rare closed-door conference Thursday in the Old Senate Chamber in hopes of setting a bipartisan mood after years of political rancor.
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the meeting gave senators in both parties "a chance to express some of their quiet frustrations [about] the level of partisanship that we’ve witnessed in recent years," according to The Associated Press.
After passage of a series of routine resolutions — including elevating 89-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, as President Pro Tempore, third in the line of presidential succession — the Senate floor opened for business.
Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, told reporters that Democrats would move quickly on rules changes.
"On Thursday and Friday, we’re going to adopt rules that will change the way the people’s House operates to ensure its integrity, to ensure its openness and to ensure its transparency," Hoyer said Wednesday.
Tighter restrictions on spending earmarks, lobbying, gifts and travel will be proposed, Democratic House leaders said.
A $2.10 hourly increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 is among six bills Democrats pledged to advance in their first 100 hours of making new laws next week, after members are seated and committees are organized.
The minimum wage was last increased in 1997. Democrats want to phase increases over two years, a proposal that has drawn conditional support from President Bush.
But they may face a tougher hurdle in efforts to repeal Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. In the only veto of his presidency to date, Bush killed a similar bill that passed with bipartisan support last year — and White House spokesman Tony Snow said Wednesday that the president’s position has not changed.
The schedule for the 100 legislative hours stretches from Tuesday through January 18, five days ahead of Bush’s State of the Union address.
Grandchildren and grand stars
Cheers and children were key components of the opening ceremonies in the House, with congressmen bringing their families to witness their swearing in.
Pelosi was escorted into the House chamber by her grandchildren. She greeted colleagues with hugs and handshakes as her family walked beside her and later invited all the children present to come up to the speaker’s chair for a chance to touch the gavel.
Among guests watching from Pelosi’s box in the House gallery were singers Tony Bennett and Carole King, and actor Richard Gere.
CNN’s Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.
NANCY PELOSI became the first female Speaker of the House in U.S. history with the opening session of the 110th Congress on January 4, putting her second in the line of succession to the presidency.