US: Pelosi wins re-election as House speaker with slim majority

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Sunday was re-elected to her leadership position despite a shrinking Democratic majority in the House.

With Democrats holding a smaller majority than the prior Congress, Pelosi could only afford to have a small handful of lawmakers peel off and opt to write-in someone else. The final count was 216, with just two Democrats — Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Conor Lamb, D-Pa. — choosing someone other than Pelosi and three others voting present. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy received 209 votes from members of his own party.

Sunday also marked the swearing-in of the 117th Congress. In a letter to colleagues Sunday morning, Pelosi said the new Congress will convene “during a time of extraordinary difficulty.”

“Each of our communities has been drastically affected by the pandemic and economic crisis: 350,000 tragic deaths, over 20 million infections, millions without jobs — a toll almost beyond comprehension,” she said. “Thank you for your generosity of spirit and patriotism to take on this challenge For The People.”

“I am enormously grateful for the trust that Members have placed in me,” she added. “I am confident that the Speaker’s election today will show a united Democratic Caucus ready to meet the challenges ahead.”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the vote for speaker— which must be conducted in person— looks different than in past years. Members will be broken up into separate groups rather than having all of the elected representatives gathered on the floor at once. The roll call vote, which began shortly after 2 p.m. ET, is ongoing.

A handful of members were not expected to be present for the vote, including Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., who is battling pancreatic cancer, and Rep. David Valadao, R-Ca., and Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., who recently tested positive for Covid-19.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, Dr. Brian Monahan, Congress’ attending physician, announced the setup of an area above the House floor for members exposed to Covid-19 but who have tested negative so they can vote in person while remaining quarantined A Capitol official said two Democrats and one Republican are utilizing this option. It is not yet known which members are doing so.

“The highest possible safeguards have been implemented including separate, enhanced ventilation in this space and separate holding facilities for any Members utilizing Gallery 4,” Monahan said. “This step will only be necessary until proxy voting resumes as an option for impacted Members.”

Pelosi won the prior vote for speaker by a 220 to 192 edge over House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Senators were also sworn in on Sunday. The ceremonies marked the end of David Perdue’s term in office. Perdue left his Georgia seat vacant until either he or Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff is certified as the winner of one of Tuesday’s widely-watched Senate runoff in that state. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., is also facing a runoff on Tuesday, but she remains in her seat through the election because she was earlier appointed to continue a term that does not expire on Sunday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., kicked off the new year by acknowledging the “challenging time” ahead. McConnell is facing a growing contingent of Republican senators who plan on contesting the Electoral College results on Wednesday as Congress convenes to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

“From political division to a deadly pandemic to adversaries around the world, the hurdles before us are many and they are serious,” said McConnell, who has been urging senators against challenging the results. “But there’s also plenty of reason for hope.”

The Senate now stands at 51 Republican senators and 48 Democrats following the swearing-in ceremonies. Should Democrats prevail in the Georgia runoffs, that split would become 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, giving Democrats the majority.

Earlier Sunday, a number of Republican senators and Republican members of the House, released separate statements opposing the challenging of the election that colleagues have planned for Wednesday.

“To take action otherwise — that is, to unconstitutionally insert Congress into the center of the presidential election process — would amount to stealing power from the people and the states,” seven House Republicans — including some of the body’s most conservative members — said in their statement. “It would, in effect, replace the electoral college with Congress, and in so doing strengthen the efforts of those on the left who are determined to eliminate it or render it irrelevant.”

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