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Pelosi Retakes Gavel As House Speaker With New Session Of Congress


There are going to be a lot of new faces wandering the halls of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. Nearly 100 newly elected lawmakers are coming to the House and Senate — including those representing the 40 seats the Democrats picked up to sweep their party back into power in the House.

They are expected to be led by Nancy Pelosi, who after Thursday's official vote would return to the job of speaker of the House after eight years leading Democrats in the minority. Pelosi made the record books in 2007 when she became the first woman elected speaker, and on Thursday, she will be the first person to return to that job since Sam Rayburn in 1955.

Pelosi takes the gavel in the midst of a nearly two-week partial government shutdown over President Trump's demand for more than $5 billion to build a wall on the southwest border with Mexico. Democrats plan to launch their new majority with votes on a package of bills to end the shutdown and reform the rules of the House.

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According to excerpts of her opening speech released from Pelosi's office, she will stress plans to "debate and advance good ideas no matter where they come from" and will note that the spending bill that is to get a vote late on Thursday had been supported by Senate Republicans.

Pelosi will promise, according to those prepared remarks, "that this Congress will be transparent, bipartisan and unifying; that we will seek to reach across the aisle in this Chamber and across the divisions in this great nation .... the Floor of this House must be America's Town Hall: where the people will see our debates, and where their voices will be heard and affect our decisions."

The vote to reopen government is expected to sail through with a majority of Democrats supporting six bipartisan spending bills that fund most of the closed agencies through September and a short-term extension of current funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Pelosi says the legislation gives Republicans a chance to reopen government and to keep working on border security, which is funded through DHS.

That party unity may begin to crack quickly when it comes to the new House rules. A small group of progressives, including California Rep. Ro Khanna and incoming New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, say they'll vote against the rules. They object to a provision that would require Congress to offset new spending through a provision called pay as you go, or PAYGO.

Traditional budget economists and incoming House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., say Democrats can, and often do, waive the rule Ocasio-Cortez and Khanna oppose. Progressives are divided on the issue. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Mark Pocan D-Wis., say they will support the rules package despite the budgeting concern.

"Chairman McGovern and House Leadership have committed to us that PAYGO will not be an impediment to advancing key progressive priorities in the 116th Congress," the co-chairs said in a statement. "With the assurances that PAYGO can be waived, we do plan to vote for the House rules package and proceed with legislation to fix the statute."

The fight over rules will be the first of likely many intraparty squabbles among Democrats as they try to satisfy the demands of an ideologically and demographically diverse coalition.

Other rules changes included in the package could significantly impact how the House operates. One revives a rule that would automatically raise the nation's borrowing authority once a budget is approved — lowering the threat of partisan confrontations about the debt ceiling. Another changes the process for attempts to force out a sitting House speaker. And Democrats also plan to vow lawmakers will get 72 hours to review any legislation before it gets a floor vote.

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Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
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