Democrat Nancy Pelosi narrowly re-elected as US House speaker

  • Nancy
    Pelosi was re-elected to the position of US Speaker of the House – her fourth,
    non-consecutive term.
  • Pelosi
    narrowly beat out Republican leader Kevin McCarthy for the House speaker role.
  • Democrats
    currently have one of the slimmest House majorities in two decades, 222 to 211
    with two vacancies.

Washington
– Nancy Pelosi, the only woman to serve as US Speaker of the House, was
narrowly re-elected to the position on Sunday in a deeply divided new Congress
that convened in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Pelosi,
80, faced a scare when five fellow Democrats defected and voted
“present” or for someone else during the floor vote.

But
the woman who is third in line to the presidency secured her fourth – and
perhaps final – non-consecutive term as House speaker by earning 216 votes
versus 209 for Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

In
a symbolic gesture beginning the 117th Congress, McCarthy formally handed the
speaker’s gavel over to Pelosi, who raised it in triumph as Democrats cheered
and applauded.

“We
begin the new Congress during a time of extraordinary difficulty,” Pelosi
told the chamber, noting the toll of 350 000 dead and 20 million infected by
Covid-19.

“Our
most urgent priority will continue to be defeating the coronavirus,” a
masked Pelosi said. “And defeat it, we will.”

The
vote took hours, as lawmakers were required to vote in groups of several dozen
due to social distancing rules imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pelosi
has been Trump’s chief nemesis in Congress, and the two clashed bitterly over
the past two years, particularly as she levelled impeachment charges against
the president.

Narrow House majority

Trump
was impeached in December 2019, but the Senate acquitted him early in 2020. His
successor, Joe Biden, takes office on 20 January.

With
Pelosi scrambling to keep her post, it was a handful of progressive lawmakers
and members-elect who have been critical of her leadership, but ultimately
voted for her on Sunday.

Among
them was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most high-profile Democrats in
Washington, and incoming lawmaker Cori Bush, who is the first African-American
woman to represent Missouri in Congress.

There
are normally 435 members of the House, but just 427 votes were cast on Sunday
as a few congressmen-elect are in quarantine due to Covid-19, and a tight House
race in New York has yet to be formally decided.

One
congressman-elect from Louisiana, Luke Letlow, died of complications from
Covid-19 last week, days before he was due to be sworn in.

That
leaves Democrats with one of the slimmest House majorities in two decades, 222
to 211 with two vacancies, as they navigate the remaining few weeks of Trump
and carry into the Biden presidency.

On
a day that was anything but conventional, Republican Chip Roy interrupted the
swearing-in process to ask that the delegations from the six swing states where
Trump has contested the election results not be seated on Sunday as House
members.

Pelosi
dispensed with the effort by holding a vote that affirmed her right to swear in
all members.

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