House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) laid out the starkly different direction the House would take in her inaugural speech Thursday afternoon, just minutes after winning the votes to seize back the gavel and give Democrats veto power over President Trump’s legislative agenda.
“Two months ago, the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn,” she declared.
Pelosi, the first and only woman ever to serve as speaker nodded to the history of the moment, coming almost exactly a century after women first got the right to vote in the U.S. The new House will be the most diverse by many measures in American history.
“I am particularly proud to be the woman speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks 100 years of women winning the right to vote, as we serve with more than 100 women in the House of Representatives – the highest number in history,” she said.
Pelosi laid out a laundry list of Democratic priorities — ones that haven’t had a chance in the House for years, and stand in direct contrast to the last eight years of conservative priorities, particularly the tumultuous first two years of the Trump presidency. At their heart: A promise to work for “the public interest, not the special interests.”
She warned of the “existential threat of our time: the climate crisis – a crisis manifested in natural disasters of epic proportions.”
She said that growing income disparity was “the root of the crisis of confidence felt by so many Americans.”
And she promised action on gun control regulation, protections for immigrants, DREAMers and LGBTQ Americans, and a push to lower drug prices and defend Obamacare, including its protections for pre-existing conditions.
Pelosi immediately emerges as the most powerful Democrat in government — the center of the shield against President Trump and congressional Republicans. And while she never mentioned Trump by name, she made it clear she wouldn’t be backing down from the president, making a point to highlight that Congress is “co-equal to the presidency and to the judiciary.”
The moment comes after Democrats netted 40 House seats in the November elections, the biggest net gain by a party since they lost the House eight years ago, after winning by the largest raw popular vote margin in U.S. history. They’ll have nearly six dozen new members, roughly a quarter of the Democratic caucus.
Pelosi took a moment to pose in the Speaker’s Well with her grandchildren and dozens of other members’ kids before she took the official oath of office. But there won’t be much more downtime to savor the victory.
Pelosi is already in the thick of the fight over the ongoing government shutdown triggered by President Trump’s demand for billions to build his border wall with Mexico — money she and other Democrats have flatly proclaimed he won’t get.
The shutdown, in its 13th day, shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Trump won’t reopen the government without wall funding. Democrats say that’s a nonstarter.
House Democrats plan to immediately pass a package of bills later on Thursday aimed at reopening the government in their first major action of the Congress. The bills would fund most of the government through September while kicking the fight over Department of Homeland Security funding forward another month. That’s the exact plan the GOP-controlled Senate unanimously passed in late December before Trump reversed and demanded wall funding once again, but Senate GOP leaders have indicated they won’t pass the bill again and Trump has said he’d veto it if it got to his desk.
The shutdown fight offers Pelosi and Democrats a unifying issue to begin the Congress, but it’s unclear how easy it’ll be to keep the party together over the next two years, while helping the nearly 60 freshmen learn to navigate the House — including dozens of swing-district freshmen who must immediately gear up for tough reelection fights.
Pelosi won back her gavel by promising to only serve two more terms as Democratic leader, a compromise that helped win over enough of the roughly 20 Democrats who were fighting hard to push her out of leadership. Fifteen Democrats voted against making her speaker or voted present on Thursday, including 10 freshmen from tough districts.
On the other hand, she’ll have to deal with renewed agitation from progressives like freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who have already complained loudly about some House rules, demanded a strong voice in the party and pushed hard for liberal priorities that could alienate some swing voters.
Pelosi has proven more than able to corral the competing factions of her party in past years. But that pressure may only grow when Robert Mueller releases his report. Dozens of Democrats have already voted to impeach Trump, and if the report’s details are troubling enough, that could create additional tensions between safe-district Democrats who see impeachment as a moral imperative and swing-district members who have very different political considerations.
But Thursday was hers and House Democrats’, as they gained back a crucial lever of power in Washington.