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First Female Speaker, Muslim Member Sworn In as House Convenes

January 4, 2007 at 6:15 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Nancy Pelosi began the most significant day of her political career by attending a morning prayer service at a Catholic church two blocks from the Capitol. And at Pelosi’s invitation, several Republicans attended as well, including Minority Leader John Boehner. Pelosi’s deputy, Maryland’s Steny Hoyer, stopped to talk to reporters.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), House Majority Leader: We’re going to have a historic day and the elevation of the first woman in our history to the speakership of the House of Representatives, third in line for the presidency. Nancy Pelosi will bring a focus, she has said, on bringing civility, integrity, and fiscal responsibility to the House of Representatives.

'An exciting day'

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, on the grounds of the Capitol, friends of Nancy Pelosi arrived to witness this historic day. Jerry Brown, California's former governor and next attorney general, was there. So was longtime Democratic congressman and former Bush Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, also a Californian.

NORMAN MINETA, Former Secretary of Transportation: To me, this is a great day for the Democrats to be able to take the House back again and my former colleague, Nancy Pelosi, becoming the speaker. So it's just an exciting day.

KWAME HOLMAN: Even the man who famously sings about leaving his heart in Pelosi's hometown of San Francisco was on hand.

TONY BENNETT, Musician: She's a wonderful lady, and I think she's going to do great things for America.

KWAME HOLMAN: And, of course, some current members of Congress were equally thrilled. California Democrat Zoe Lofgren remembered 1994, her first year in Congress, and the first of a dozen years of Republican rule.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D), California: It was cold 12 years ago today, when I was first sworn in and saw the gavel handed to Newt Gingrich for the first time. And, today, the trees are starting to bloom, and the birds are chirping.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Steve Chabot of Ohio also first came to office in 1994, but today he was less optimistic.

REP. STEVE CHABOT (R), Ohio: I think historically it's significant to have the first woman in history as our speaker of the House. That's long overdue. I just hope that the Democrats and our new speaker follow through on what they've said. It's a little discouraging when they talked about having open government and allowing the minority to offer amendments to bills and, at least in the first 100 hours, they're shutting things down, and that's going to be run their way -- it's kind of their way or the highway. And I think that's a little unfortunate, but that's the way it is.

KWAME HOLMAN: Inside the House chamber, opening day ceremonies officially kicked off precisely at noon.

HOUSE CLERK: The House will be in order.

KWAME HOLMAN: As various housekeeping duties were dispensed with, Pelosi settled in with her six grandchildren, as did other members with their families. The first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, chatted with his new colleagues. He's one of 42 Democrats among the 55 in the new freshman class. Former Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley also was seen congratulating the speaker-to-be.

The nomination and vote

Then, Illinois Democrat Rahm Emanuel, who as the party's House campaign manager was credited with engineering the Democrats' midterm victories, rose to nominate Ms. Pelosi to be speaker.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D-IL), Chairman, Democratic Caucus: Madam Clerk, as the chairman of the Democratic Caucus, I'm directed by the unanimous vote of that caucus to present for election to office of the speaker of the House of Representatives for the 110th Congress, the name of the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, as a member from the state of California.

KWAME HOLMAN: As is tradition, the minority party also nominates its leader, fully aware of what the outcome will be. For the Republicans today, it was John Boehner, nominated by Florida's Adam Putnam.

REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), Florida: Madam Clerk, I'm pleased to put forward the name of a man who represents the best of honesty, integrity, decency, uncanny wisdom and understanding. As chairman of the Republican Conference, I'm directed by the unanimous vote of that conference to present for election to the office of speaker of the House of Representatives for the 110th Congress, the name of the Honorable John A. Boehner from the state of Ohio.

KWAME HOLMAN: The vote itself was held in the form of an old-fashioned roll call, a lengthy process in which each member announces his or her vote, and the clerk affirms it.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), New York: ... that someone born on the streets of Harlem be privileged and honored to cast this historic vote for the distinguished lady from California, the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, for speaker. KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Boehner seemed to find the moment funny when his turn to vote came around.

HOUSE CLERK: Boehner? Boehner?

KWAME HOLMAN: The vote lasted just more than an hour. And at the end, the 66-year-old California Democrat, entering her 20th year in Congress, had been elected speaker of the House, the first woman ever so honored.

SERGEANT AT ARMS: Madam Clerk, the speaker-elect, Nancy Pelosi, representative from California and of the escort committee.

'An historic moment'

KWAME HOLMAN: As is the tradition, the leader of the minority party introduced the incoming speaker, which John Boehner did after some comments about the historic nature of the day.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: For more than 200 years, the leaders of our government have been democratically elected. And from their ranks, our leaders have always selected a man for the responsibility and honor as serving as speaker of the House. Always, that is, until today. It is sometimes said the founding fathers would not recognize the government that exists here in Washington today. It has grown in size and scope, far beyond anything they could ever have imagined, much less endorsed or advocated for our future. But today marks an occasion that I think the founding fathers would view approvingly. And, my fellow Americans, whether you're a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, today is a cause for celebration.

KWAME HOLMAN: And then came the historic moment.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: It's now my privilege to present the gavel of the United States House of Representatives to the first woman speaker in our history, the gentlelady from California, Nancy Pelosi.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pelosi talked about what the day meant for her and other women across the country.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: And today, I thank my colleagues. By electing me speaker, you have brought us closer to the ideal of equality that is America's heritage and America's hope. This is an historic moment, and I thank the leader for acknowledging it. Thank you, Mr. Boehner. It's an historic moment for the Congress. It's an historic moment for the women of America. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren't just waiting; women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America: that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters now, the sky is the limit. Anything is possible for them.

KWAME HOLMAN: The speaker-elect finished by advocating a bipartisan approach to future business.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Let us stand together to move our country forward, seeking common ground for the common good. We have made history; now let us make progress for the American people. May God bless our work, and may God bless America.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pelosi then asked her grandchildren to join her at the chair. And next, keeping with tradition, Michigan Democrat John Dingell, the dean of the House with his 52 years in office, administered the oath to the speaker-elect.

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), Michigan: If the distinguished gentlewoman from California will please raise your right hand? Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will faithfully and well discharge the duties of the office upon which you are about to enter, so help you God?


Getting down to business

KWAME HOLMAN: Then, Speaker Pelosi administered the oath to the other 232 Democrats and 202 Republicans who make up the new House.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: ... on what you are about to enter, so help you God.


REP. NANCY PELOSI: Congratulations. You are all now members of the 110th Congress.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Democrats' 31-seat margin in the House is the largest majority held by either party since Democrats last were in power in 1993. And so today, the first issue Democrats chose to undertake was lobbying and ethics reform, fulfilling their campaign promise to end what they called the "culture of corruption" in Washington.

REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D-NY), Chair, Rules Committee: The body was created to serve as a battleground of ideas, not of checkbooks or backroom deals or deceptions. It was created to serve the people of the United States.

KWAME HOLMAN: The reform package would ban gifts and meals from lobbyists, require pre-approval from the Ethics Committee for travel paid for by outside groups, and prohibit members' use of corporate jets. It also would guarantee certain rights to the minority party, including adequate notice of meetings and time to review legislation. But many Republicans argued Pelosi already had reneged on her promise to guarantee rights to the minority.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), California: Unfortunately, this rules package shuts us out from the start. It's my hope that the promises made will, indeed, be kept. But, Mr. Speaker, this package does not inspire a great deal of hope in that they in any way will.

KWAME HOLMAN: And so the bipartisan spirit that permeated the House ceremonies earlier in the day began to fade, as the two parties got down to legislative business. Votes on the ethics reform package were expected through the evening and tomorrow.