Cheers broke out among GOP lawmakers on the House floor on Wednesday as Boehner, a veteran lawmaker from Ohio, defeated Pelosi in the roll call for speaker. His rise to the helm of the House was virtually guaranteed months ago, when the midterm elections returned Republicans to control of the House, which they had surrendered to Democrats four years ago. Pelosi was the first woman to rise to the speaker's post.
The new Congress convened with prayers, pomp and partisanship, as Republicans vowed to use their new House majority to battle President Barack Obama on health care, spending, taxes and other issues.
In the Senate, lawmakers moved almost immediately to a debate over filibuster rules in which Democratic and Republican leaders accused each other of obstructing progress and trying to game the parliamentary system.
In the House, children and grandchildren of new lawmakers fidgeted, temporarily lending lighter moments to a chamber certain to see fierce debates and partisan votes in the next two years. House Republicans, for instance, plan to vote within days to overturn Obama's 2010 health care overhaul, but they acknowledge it's a symbolic gesture because the Senate will not concur.
Vice President Joe Biden gave the oath of office to senators, while the House began a long roll call that ended in Boehner's election. Nineteen House Democrats refused to vote for Pelosi as speaker, baring the lingering wounds from last fall's bitter elections that cost their party 64 House seats. Countless GOP campaign ads had depicted Pelosi and her allies as out-of-touch liberals. Eleven House Democrats kept campaign promises Wednesday by voting for fellow centrist Heath Shuler, D-N.C.
The GOP's dramatic election gains will give them a 242-193 edge in the House. Many freshman Republicans are hardcore conservatives with tea party connections, and Boehner may struggle at times to keep his caucus unified, especially on contentious matters such as raising the federal debt limit.
The day's ceremonies ended two years of Democratic dominance in Washington and ushered in a divided government in the run-up to the 2012 congressional and presidential elections. With campaigns but a short time away, Obama and congressional Republicans are set to square off over the size of government and the taxpayer dollars it spends.
Fresh from a Hawaii vacation, Obama told reporters he expects Republicans initially to "play to their base."
"But I'm pretty confident that they're going to recognize that our job is to govern and make sure that we are delivering jobs for the American people," he added. "My hope is that John Boehner and (Senate GOP leader) Mitch McConnell will realize that there will be plenty of time to campaign for 2012 in 2012."
Biden reveled in his role as president of the Senate, swearing in 35 senators -- several of whom he campaigned against last fall.
A congenial, back-slapping atmosphere prevailed, and numerous former senators -- including former Vice President Dan Quayle -- escorted homestate colleagues to the well to be sworn in. His son, Ben Quayle, was among the new House members being sworn in on the other side of the building.
Several tea party favorites, like Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., promise to make life complicated for returning Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., himself a survivor of a costly campaign against tea party-backed Sharron Angle.
The first order of Senate business was passing a resolution honoring Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., on becoming the longest serving female senator. Then, the chamber turned to a Democratic-initiated debate on changing the chamber's rules to tame the filibuster and other ways to grind the Senate to a halt.
For now, both parties will build their election-year cases in the congressional arena.
It began Wednesday morning when Boehner joined Pelosi and others at a bipartisan prayer service at St. Peter's Catholic Church near the Capitol. It continues when Pelosi, the Californian who made history by becoming the first woman speaker four years ago, hands the gavel to Boehner, the affable Ohioan with blue collar roots, and the new Congress is sworn into office. Republicans have promised to run the House with an eye toward saving and cutting spending, and in a manner more open to public scrutiny and debate.
In his prepared remarks, Boehner said the voters "have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker."
Flexing its newfound muscles, the incoming GOP majority is preparing to break its own new rules next week when it votes, without hearings or a chance to make changes, to cancel Obama's signature health care law.
"It's not like we haven't litigated this for over a year," Boehner said Tuesday.
Across the Capitol, the Senate opened for business with the Democrats' majority down from 60 votes two years ago to 53 -- making it harder to enact legislation Obama seeks. But it gives them more than enough clout to block passage of bills like the health care repeal House Republicans want.
The shrunken Democratic ranks give Republicans leverage to bargain for a reduction in spending on items like a $1.4 billion food safety measure Obama signed Tuesday.
In the House, the GOP's new "cut and grow majority" envisions curbs on government spending and regulations to spur the economy, Cantor said.
The first spending cut vote is set for Thursday, a 5 percent reduction in the amount ticketed for lawmakers' and committees' offices and leadership staff. Aides estimate the savings at $35 million over the next nine months.
Republicans have pledged to vote at least once a week on bills that cut spending. And Cantor challenged Obama to include significant spending cuts in his State of the Union address on Jan. 25.
But Republicans acknowledge they must do more than oppose Obama's every proposal, as they did the past two years of Democratic rule. That might mean compromise, anathema to GOP hardliners, setting up the potential for conflicts in the party.
The effort to repeal health care overhaul appears to be exempt from some of the new majority's stated priorities and reforms.
One of the first House votes on Wednesday will be the enactment of a series of rules changes that Republicans crafted to increase openness in Congress' proceedings. Despite that, the new majority intends to pass the health care repeal next week without committee hearings or permitting Democrats a chance to seek changes.
Republicans also have decided to ignore estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that the bill as it originally passed would cut spending by $143 billion over the next decade.
In the Senate, a group of Democrats led by Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico called for changes that would make it harder for the minority to delay legislation by filibuster. It's a key question now that Democrats are seven senators short of the 60 required to break such logjams.
"The brazenness of this proposed action is that Democrats are proposing to use the very tactics that in the past almost every Democratic leader has denounced, including President Obama and Vice President Biden,"' Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a speech Tuesday.
No resolution is expected for weeks.
The filibuster rules were last changed more than a quarter-century ago, when the number of votes needed to end the stalling tactic was reduced to 60. A two-thirds majority had previously been required.
Their power all but gone, House Democrats head into the minority after four years in control.
Outgoing Speaker Pelosi, the next minority leader, declined to reflect on her historic four-year tenure as the first woman to preside over the House.
"Actually, I don't really look back. I look forward," she said.
Associated Press writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pelosi Remarks Before Passing Gavel to Speaker John Boehner
"It is a high honor to welcome all Members of Congress and their families to the House of Representatives.
"To the new members and their families, let me offer a special welcome and congratulations.
"We all come here to represent our constituents; our respect for each other is rooted in our respect for the people we serve.
"This month we will observe the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inauguration. As a student, I was there in the freezing cold and heard the stirring address which inspired generations of Americans to public service.
"In his 1962 State of the Union address, from this same dais, President Kennedy said to Congress, 'The Constitution makes us…all trustees for the American people, custodians of the American heritage.'
"Today, as we take the oath of office to support and defend the Constitution, we do so as trustees of America's best hopes and custodians of America's highest ideals.
"However we may differ, let us never lose sight of our common love for this exceptional nation and our shared obligation to light the way forward.
"Our families have always helped light the way forward for us.
"With a full and grateful heart, let me thank my family: my husband of 47 years, Paul; my children – Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul and Alexandra; and my grandchildren. I'm proud to come from a large family – the youngest of seven – and to acknowledge my brother, Thomas D'Alesandro III, former Mayor of Baltimore.
"Let me thank my constituents in San Francisco, whom I am proud to serve in the spirit of the anthem of our city, the Song of St. Francis.
"And I am grateful to my colleagues for their commitment to equality – which is both our heritage and our hope – giving me the historic honor of serving as the first woman Speaker of the House.
"And now more doors are wide open for all of America's daughters and granddaughters.
"I was also honored to serve as the first Italian-American Speaker. Like many Americans, my heritage is a source of great pride and a deeply engrained patriotism which summons us to build a stronger nation.
"We recognize that the proudest title we will ever hold is not accorded on this floor. It is the simple dignity of the title American, part of our great democracy that continues to be the greatest hope of liberty and progress for the entire world.
"When I was first elected Speaker, I called the House to order on behalf of America's children.
"As I now prepare to hand over the gavel, I know one thing above all else. Thanks to you, we have stood for those children and for their families—for their health, their education, the safety of the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat.
"Thanks to you, for those children and families, we:
- Made the largest-ever commitment to making college more affordable;
- Enacted Wall Street Reform with the greatest consumer protections in history;
- And passed a strong Patient's Bill of Rights.
- Children with pre-existing conditions can get coverage;
- Young people can stay on their parents' plans until age 26;
- Pregnant women and breast and prostate cancer patients can no longer be thrown off the insurance rolls;
- Our seniors are paying less for needed prescription drugs.
- Taken together, this will save the taxpayers $1.3 trillion.
"Thanks to you, we advanced the defining American cause of equality for all, from the first days of the Congress with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to the last days with the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'
"And thanks to you, we achieved more for America's veterans than at any time since the passage of the GI Bill of Rights in 1944. Because of our courageous troops and veterans, we will always be the land of the free and the home of the brave. "Let us now salute our men and women in uniform.
"We must build a future worthy of their sacrifice, which includes good-paying jobs for them when they come home.
"It is not enough that we staved off a depression. Much more needs to be done to open up the American dream and lift up the American economy.
"The only acceptable outcome is to fully and finally restore a fair prosperity that good-paying jobs provide.
"Our most important job is to fight for American jobs – to make it in America. And so Democrats will judge what comes before Congress by whether it creates jobs, strengthens our middle class, and reduces the deficit – not burdening future generations with debt.
"When the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, and the new Republican majority, come forward with solutions that address these American challenges, you will find in us a willing partner.
"As we congratulate Speaker Boehner and our Republican colleagues – as we wish them success – we must stand ready to find common ground, to solve problems, and to build a more secure future for all Americans. And as we take the oath of office today to support and defend the Constitution, we must be ever-mindful that it 'makes us…all trustees for the American people, custodians of the American heritage.'
"Thank you my colleagues for the honor of serving in that proud tradition as Speaker of the House.
"I congratulate the new majority in the House and the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner.
"Now the House will be led by a proud son of Ohio, a man of conviction, a public servant of resolve, and a legislator of skill. Speaker Boehner is a leader who has earned the confidence of his Conference and the respect of his colleagues in the House. He is a man of faith: faith in God, faith in his country, and faith in his family.
"As we congratulate him, we also congratulate and thank his wife Debbie, their two daughters Lindsay and Tricia, and the entire Boehner family.
"Recognizing our roles under the Constitution, united in our love of country, we now engage in a strong symbol of American democracy: the peaceful and respectful exchange of power.
"I will now pass on this gavel—and the sacred trust that goes with it – to the new Speaker.
"God bless you, Speaker Boehner.
"God bless this Congress.
"God bless America."
Speaker Boehner FULL remarks
Madam Speaker, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for your service. I'd like to welcome our new colleagues and their families. My own family is here as well: my wife, Debbie, our daughters, Lindsay and Tricia; my brothers and sisters, brothers-and-sisters-in-law, and their children.
I am honored and humbled to represent a great, hard-working community in Congress. The people of Ohio's Eighth Congressional District continue to afford me the privilege to serve, for which I am deeply grateful.
We gather here today at a time of great challenges. Nearly one in ten of our neighbors are looking for work. Health care costs are still rising for families and small businesses. Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy. Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress.
No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.
In the Catholic faith, we enter into a season of service by having ashes marked on our foreheads. The ashes remind us that life in all its forms is fragile – our time on this Earth, fleeting. As the ashes are delivered, we hear those humbling words: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people's House. This is their Congress. It's about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.
Let's start with the rules package the House will consider today. If passed, it will mark a change in how this institution operates, with an emphasis on real transparency, greater accountability, and a renewed focus on the Constitution.
Our aim will be to give government back to the people. In seeking this goal, we will part with some of the rituals that have come to characterize this institution under majorities Republican and Democratic alike. We will dispense with the conventional wisdom that bigger bills are always better; that fast legislating is good legislating; that allowing additional amendments and open debate makes the legislative process "less efficient" than our forefathers intended.
These misconceptions have been the basis for the rituals of modern Washington. The American people have not been well served by them.
Today, mindful of the lessons of the past, we open a new chapter.
Legislators and the public will have three days to read bills before they come to a vote. Legislation will be more focused, properly scrutinized, and constitutionally sound. Committees, once bloated, will be smaller, with a renewed mission, including oversight. Old rules that have made it easy to increase spending will be replaced by new rules that make it easier to cut spending. We'll start by cutting Congress' own budget. And there will be no earmarks.
Above all else, we will welcome the battle of ideas, encourage it, and engage in it – openly, honestly, and respectfully. As the chamber closest to the people, the House works best when it is allowed to work its will. I ask all members of this body to join me in recognizing this common truth.
To my colleagues in the majority, my message is this: we will honor our Pledge to America, built through a process of listening to the people, and we will stand firm on the Constitutional principles that built our party, and built a nation. We will do these things, however, in a manner that restores and respects the time-honored right of the minority to an honest debate and a fair, open process.
To my friends in the minority, I offer a commitment. Openness – once a tradition of this institution, but increasingly scarce in recent decades, will be the new standard. There were no open rules in the House in the last Congress. In this one, there will be many. With this restored openness, however, will come a restored responsibility. You will not have the right to willfully disrupt the proceedings of the People's House. But you will always have the right to a robust debate in open process that allows you to represent your constituents. . .to make your case, offer alternatives, and be heard.
In time, this framework will, I believe, restore the House of Representatives as a place where the people's will is done. It will also, I hope, help rebuild trust among us and the people we serve, and in so doing, provide a guidepost for those who follow us in the service of our nation.
To our new members – Democratic and Republican – as you take the oath today, I know you will do so mindful of this shared goal, and the trust placed in you by your constituents. As Speaker, I view part of my job as helping each of you do your job well, regardless of party. My hope is that every new Member – and indeed, every Member – will be comfortable approaching me with matters of the House.
We will not always get it right. We will not always agree on what is right. A great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle. We cannot ignore that, nor should we. My belief has always been, we can disagree without being disagreeable to each other. That's why it is critical this institution operate in a manner that permits a free exchange of ideas, and resolves our honest differences through a fair debate and a fair vote. We may have different – sometimes, very different – ideas for how to go about achieving the common good, but it is our shared goal. It is why we serve.
Let us now move forward humble in our demeanor, steady in our principles, and dedicated to proving worthy of the trust and confidence that has been placed in us.
If we brace ourselves to do our duty, and to do what we say we are going to do, there is no telling what together we can accomplish for the good of this great and honorable nation. More than a country, America is an idea, and it is our job to pass on to our posterity the blessings bestowed to us.
I wish you all the very best. Welcome to the people's House. Welcome to the 112th Congress.