Pelosi takes Speaker gavel as tide shifts for Democrats on Capitol Hill
WASHINGTON (CN) – Cleanly squelching an attempted insurrection from some fellow Democrats, Rep. Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker of the House Thursday for the second time in her three-decade career in Congress.
Democrats cheered and applauded as it was announced that Pelosi received 220 votes of the votes cast, enough to earn her the speakership.
The House convened at noon, jovial and loud, to begin the new Congress where Democrats lead following a power shift in the 2018 midterm elections. Before a morning prayer brought silence to the cacophonous chamber, Democrats applauded the announcement that the previous Congress, which was controlled by Republicans, had ended.
Pelosi meanwhile worked her way down the aisles of the chamber, shaking hands with and hugging members of her new caucus and the family members who accompanied them to the floor. Some members sported large, dark blue buttons that proclaimed “Madame Speaker.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., gave a rousing speech to officially nominate Pelosi, extolling her record as a legislator and as a leader of Democrats in the past. Democrats stood and applauded multiple times during the speech, and Pelosi’s was the only name Democrats officially put forward for the speaker nomination.
“Nancy Pelosi is 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 and that’s why we stand squarely behind her today,” Jeffries said, his voice rising with each phrase. “Let me be clear, House Democrats are down with N.D.P. Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi, the once and future speaker of the United States House of Representatives, I proudly place her name in nomination. May God bless, her, may God bless the United States of America.”
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., put forward McCarthy as the Republican choice for speaker.
Lawmakers were called by name during the speaker vote, standing from their chairs to state their preference in the race.
Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a newly elected Democrat from New York who said he would not support Pelosi in the midterms, drew murmurs from his fellow Democrats when he cast his vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.
A handful of new lawmakers stuck by promises to vote against Pelosi on Thursday, including Brindisi and Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., though not in great enough numbers to sink her speakership aspirations.
A 78-year-old who has represented much of the San Francisco area in the House since 1987, Pelosi held the speaker position from 2007, when Democrats rose to power at the end of the George W. Bush administration, to 2011, when they lost it midway through President Barack Obama’s first term.
Pelosi has touted a Democratic agenda focused on health care, infrastructure, wages and anti-corruption initiatives, with a sizable dose of oversight of the Trump administration.
Pelosi maintained her leadership position during the Democrats’ eight years as the minority party in Washington. As it became clear the party would sweep back into power in the 2018 midterm elections, however, it appeared far from certain she would be the choice for speaker. Though speculation and anticipation raged that she might not have the votes to win the speakership again, no firm opposition to Pelosi taking over the party’s top spot in Congress ever coalesced.
A wave of new, progressive candidates, including some who unseated Republicans in red districts and helped swing the balance of power in the House, either pointedly said they would not support Pelosi if they were elected, or that they would like to see new leadership in the party.
In August, NBC News counted 47 Democratic candidates who said they would not support Pelosi for speaker if they were elected in the 2018 midterm elections. Most of those candidates did not win their elections, and a good portion of the ones who did began walking back their stances on Pelosi when they arrived in Washington.
Pelosi also gave some progressive Democrats an olive branch in December, when she announced a new House committee on climate change, to be chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla.
Meanwhile, a group of incumbent Democrats who had opposed Pelosi before, including Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, attempted to cobble together enough support from within the caucus to put forward a viable challenger during the party’s elections in November.
But that insurgency proved fruitless. At one point the group released a letter with 16 signatories calling for new leadership, but they were still unable to coax out a candidate to take on Pelosi. Fudge, who at one point said she was weighing a bid for speaker, announced in November that she had changed her mind and would be supporting Pelosi.
Ryan dropped his opposition in December after striking a deal to put in place term limits for party leadership positions, effectively bringing to an end the attempt to deny Pelosi the gavel.
Jennifer Hijazi contributed reporting to this article.