The 111th Congress Takes Flight

Posted January 6, 2009 at 2:50pm

The House re-elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Senate turned away an Illinois hopeful as Congressional Democrats kicked off the 111th Congress on Tuesday.

As expected, the House re-elected Pelosi — who strategically placed two children on her lap during the nomination process — to her leadership post. Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) pledged to work in a bipartisan manner in the new Congress.

Hammering home that message, Boehner echoed the bipartisan pledge made by President-elect Barack Obama and urged Congressional Democrats to follow his lead. Drawing attention to matters at hand, Boehner said he hoped the House rules package up for a vote later Tuesday — one that has already come under GOP fire for weakening tools at the minority’s disposal — stays focused on “transparency and open debate.”

Drawing attention to the hefty stimulus package being crafted behind closed doors, Pelosi emphasized that Congress “cannot afford to wait any longer” to take action on major economic challenges, namely infrastructure and health care affordability.

Pelosi also administered the oath of office to all Members and delegates.

In all, House Democrats picked up 21 seats in the November elections; this puts them at 256 seats to 178 seats for Republicans. One seat remains vacant: the seat left open by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who is now Obama’s chosen chief of staff.

Meanwhile, the Senate teed off the new session with nine freshmen, a pair of cousins and a former Bush administration Cabinet secretary among its ranks.

Democratic Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Mark Udall (Colo.), cousins who previously served together in the House, were sworn in to the Senate. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), who served as Agriculture secretary under Bush, was also sworn in.

Roland Burris, the Illinois Democrat appointed to fill Obama’s vacant Senate seat by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), was absent from the crowd. Also absent were Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and his Democratic challenger Al Franken, who recently emerged as the victor in a tight recount race.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reiterated that Franken was recently declared the winner of the race by the Minnesota State Canvassing Board and called on Coleman to step aside.

“Democrats will not seat Sen. Franken today. We understand the sensitivity on both sides,” Reid said. “This can’t drag on. I hope that former Sen. Coleman and his colleagues will choose to recognize the will of the people of Minnesota.”

Making his first appearance on the Senate floor after a long absence last year was Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who in May was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Kennedy escorted Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to the podium to recite the oath of office.

A handful of other VIPs came to the Capitol for the swearing-in, which lasted less than one hour. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) was escorted down the aisle toward the podium with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and the man who ousted him from the Senate, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).

Vice President-elect Joseph Biden also returned to the Senate chamber for the noon swearing-in, as did Secretary of Interior appointee Ken Salazar, who was plucked from his first term in the Senate to serve in the Obama Cabinet.

Secretary of State appointee Hillary Rodham Clinton was absent from the swearing-in.