Diverse new US Congress convenes

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Diverse new US Congress convenes

It is the first new Congress to convene during a partial government shutdown.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes a selfie with Ann McLane Kuster and Barbara Lee, on the first day of the 116th Congress (J Scott Applewhite/AP)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes a selfie with Ann McLane Kuster and Barbara Lee, on the first day of the 116th Congress (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

Cheering Democrats have returned Nancy Pelosi to the House speaker’s post as the 116th Congress ushered in the most diverse class of politicians in US history.

Ms Pelosi, elected speaker 220-192, took the gavel saying US voters “demanded a new dawn” in the November election that swept the Democrats to a House majority and are looking to “the beauty of our Constitution” to provide checks and balances on power.

Ms Pelosi faced 15 dissenting votes from fellow Democrats.

But for a few hours, smiles and backslapping were the order of the day. The new speaker invited scores of politicians’ children to join her on the dais as she was sworn in, calling the House to order “on behalf of all of America’s children”.

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Nancy Pelosi, surrounded by children (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Even President Donald Trump congratulated her during a rare appearance at the White House briefing room, saying her election by House colleagues was “a tremendous, tremendous achievement”.

The president has tangled often with Ms Pelosi and is sure to do so again with Democrats controlling the House, but he said: “I think it’ll be a little bit different than a lot of people are thinking.”

As night fell, the House quickly got to work on the partial government shutdown, which was winding up Day 13 with Mr Trump demanding billions in Mexican border wall funding to bring it to an end.

Democrats approved legislation to re-open the government — but without the 5.6 billion US dollars (£4.4 billion), which means it has no chance in the Republican Senate.

The new Congress is like none other.

There are more women than ever before, and a new generation of Muslims, Latinos, Native Americans and African-Americans is creating a House more aligned with the population of the United States.

However, the Republican side in the House is still made up mostly of white men, and in the Senate, Republicans bolstered their ranks in the majority.

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In a nod to the moment, Ms Pelosi, the first female speaker who reclaimed the post she lost to the Republicans in 2011, broadly pledged to make Congress work for all Americans – addressing kitchen table issues at a time of deep economic turmoil – even as her party readies to challenge Mr Trump with investigations and subpoena powers that threaten the White House agenda.

Ms Pelosi promised to “restore integrity to government” and outlined an agenda “to lower health costs and prescription drug prices and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions; to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure from sea to shining sea”.

The day unfolded as one of both celebration and impatience. Newly elected politicians arrived, often with friends and families in tow, to take the oath of office and pose for ceremonial photos. Then they swiftly turned to the shutdown.

Vice President Mike Pence swore in newly elected senators, but Senate Republicans under majority leader Mitch McConnell had no plans to consider the House bills unless Mr Trump agreed to sign them into law.

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Ilhan Omar, centre, talks on the House floor before being sworn in (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Ms Pelosi defied history in returning to the speaker’s office after eight years in the minority, overcoming internal opposition from Democrats demanding a new generation of leaders. She will be the first to regain the gavel since Sam Rayburn of Texas in 1955.

The halls of the Capitol were bustling with arrivals, children in the arms of many new politicians.

Visitor galleries included crooner Tony Bennett and rock legend Mickey Hart, both guests of Ms Pelosi.

Overnight, Democratic Representative-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeted a picture with her family at the airport.

The House rules were being changed to allow Omar, who is Muslim, to wear a head scarf on the chamber floor.

She wrote, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”

Press Association

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