Country Wire

    Democrat Nancy Pelosi makes history as  the only woman to have ever held the position  Speaker of House in United States as 116th Congress is convened




    Americas: United States

    Democrat Nancy Pelosi makes history as  the only woman to have ever held the position  Speaker of House in United States as 116th Congress is convened --

    On Jan. 3, 2019, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, was elected by the House of Representatives to be the House Speaker, effectively making her second in line to the presidency, behind Vice President Mike Pence, according to Article 2, Section 1, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution.  Pelosi could thus be regarded as the most powerful woman in United States politics.  As the only woman to have ever held the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Pelosi could also be rightly regarded as the most powerful woman in United States political history. 

    It was Speaker Pelosi's second stint in that post. She made history as the only woman in United States history to become House Speaker after the 2006 mid-term elections and remained at the helm until 2010. Now, she had recaptured the gavel in the wake of the 2016 mid-term elections.  As such, Pelosi would also be the only person -- male of female - to serve as House Speaker twice since Sam Rayburn, an ally of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, who returned to post when President John F. Kennedy was president. 

    Pelosi led her Democratic Party to victory in mid-term elections held in November 2018, flipping a record 40 seats and winning  235 seats  to 199 for the Republicans with one seat still outstanding. It was the biggest shift of furtune for Democrats in the House of Representatives since the Watergate era.
    The result was the Democratic take-over of the House of Representatives by a significant and decisive margin.

    On Jan. 3. 2019, the new House Democratic Caucus chairman, Hakeem Jeffries, introduced Pelosi's nomination for the speakership in a rousing and inspiring speech.  "Nancy Pelosi is a woman of faith, a loving wife, a mother of five, a grandmother of nine, a sophisticated strategist, a legendary legislator, a voice for the voiceless,"  Jeffries said.  Jeffries spurred loud cheers as he referenced a  1991 rap song, adding: "Let me be clear, House Democrats are down with NDP - Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi, the once and future speaker of the House of Representatives."

    As the roll call proceeded with each member of the new House issuing their votes for speaker, many female Democratic members of Congress paid tribute to the 100th anniversary of the woman's right to vote.  Newly-elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes wore white to honor the suffragette movement. As she cast her vote for Pelosi on the floor,  Brenda Lawrence declared: “Standing on the shoulders of the women who marched 100 years ago to give me the right to vote, I cast my vote for Nancy Pelosi."

    Despite defections from a handful of members of Congress from her own party, Pelosi secured majority support of the House of Representatives against Republican Kevin McCarthy. 

    Pelosi's victory was formalized as she was sworn into power. The oath of office was administered by  senior Republican Representative Don Young, the Dean of the body.  Surrounded by the children of congress members and her own grandchildren, Pelosi was sworn into power at the helm of 435-seat chamber.

    Speaker Pelosi would preside over the 116th Congress -- the most diverse in United States history. There were more than 100 women, the first two Native American women ever, the first two Muslim women ever, the largest Black caucus (55), the largest Hispanic caucus (37), the largest number of Asian/Pacific Islanders (20), and California elected its first bisexual woman. Democratic leadership was the most diverse than ever before ethnically, by gender and age -- including for the first time, first time congress members who were millennials. 
     
    Speaker Pelosi was coming to power at a time of tumult in the nation state.  In the background was the shadow of investigations, inquiries, and possible impeachment of the president, Donald Trump, in regard to a number of accusations ranging from conspiring against the United States with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential elections, to obstruction of justice, and a host of other corruption-related allegations, potentially involving his businesses.  As House Speaker, Pelosi would oversee and direct te course of the investigations into the president as the constitutionally-enshrined duty of oversight was undertaken.  

    The Democratic House had been elected to make good on their campaign promise to protect and strengthen healthcare for millions of Americans.  That issue, along with other domestic priorties, such as shoring up the economy so it benefitted the middle class.  As stated by the incoming Speaker of the House, the major goal would be as follows: "Building an economy that gives all Americans the tools they need to succeed in the 21st Century: public education, workforce development, good-paying jobs and secure pensions." 

    Strengthening gun regulations and addressing climate change would also be part of the policy agenda for the incoming House to deal with.  

    The task before them would be to move on policy initiatives, while also exercising checks and balances on the executive branch of government. But before even getting to those two meta-agenda items, Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leadership would necessarily focus on a government shutdown in effect since Dec. 22, 2018. 

    The United States (U.S.) government partially shut down on the morning of Dec. 22, 2018, following an impasse regarding how President Donald Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall would be funded. The government shutdown left up to 800,000 federal employees affected. 

    On Dec. 11, 2018, President Trump held a televised meeting with then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in which he demanded $5 billion for the wall and made clear that he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security" if they did not accede to his demand. But the Democratic leadership in both chambers were adamantly opposed to the notion of a wall vis a vis other forms of effective border security. 
    This impasses was in place weeks later when a new Congress was about to to take power. 

    As she strode through the Capitol en route to the opening of the new Congress on Dec. 3, 2019, Pelosi was asked if she would cede to Trump's demands on the funding for his signature campaign promise -- the border wall with Mexico -- she replied, “A wall is an immorality — it’s not who we are as a nation. This is not a wall between Mexico and the United States that the president is creating here; it’s a wall between reality and his constituents, his supporters.”

    Pelosi added that the wall "... is a waste of money and opportunity cost to protect the American people." She instead suggested that border security funding should be allocated for modernizing infrastructure at ports of entry and ameliorating technology to scan incoming vehicles for drugs. She added, "There's so many things that we can be doing ... that also maintain who we are as a country."

    Right after newly-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seized the gavel and the 116th Congress was convened, the first order of business was the pass legislation aimed at ending the government shutdown. By that point, the shutdown had been ongoing for two weeks with as many as 800,000 federal workers affected.

    To this end, Democrats in the House were joined by a handful of Republicans in passing a two-part package of legislation that would end the governing crisis.  Democrats flexed their muscle by ignoring the president's demand for $5 billion to construct his wall, and instead opted to fund the Department of Homeland Security at existing levels until Feb. 8, 2019, and as before, offered only $1.3 billion for border fencing and $300 million for other aspects of border security, such as cyber-technology and cameras.  In the second part of the package, there was funding made available for underfunded federal agencies, such as the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Commerce and Justice, until the end of the fiscal year -- that is to say, until Sept. 2019.

    Despite passing through the House of Representatives, and with a strong likelihood of passage in the Senate, given the inclusion of elements that had already passed that chamber, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that it would not be brought up for a vote.  McConnell cast the legislation as  "political theater, not productive lawmaking."  

    But McConnell was under pressure from  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who said, "If Leader McConnell tonight would put the bill that's passing the House on the floor, it would pass."

    It was unclear how long MCOnnell could hold this line as some Republicans within his own caucus, perhaps calculating the potential political damage, were indicating that they were ready to work on a bipartisan basis to re-open the government.  

    For his part, President Trump threatened to veto the legislation. A tumultuous  meeting in the White House Situation Room between Trump and Democratic congressional leaders ended with an impasse. An angered  Trump emreged later and indicated that he was prepared for to stand his ground and allow the government shutdown to continue for "years."  Trump additionally suggested that he could declare emergency powers and command the construction of the wall on that basis, without approval from Congress.  Trump said: "Yes, I have ... I may do it ... we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly." 

    Such a move would not actually be constitutional. The United States Constitution gives  Congress the "power of the purse strings" and as such, the legislative branch of government controls funding the federal government.  Attempting to bypass that constitutionally-enshrined order would inevitably face legal challenges and quite likely send the country into a constitutional crisis.  

    House Democrats, however, were undeterred. In an interview with NBC News that aired on Jan. 3, 2019, when Pelosi had been asked about what Democrats would do to work with Trump to meet his demands.  She declared,  "No, no. Nothing for the wall."  As the first week of January 2019 came to a close, that Democratic standpoint position had not changed. 

    Note: It should be noted that during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump vowed that Mexico would pay for the border wall.


    Copyright 2019 CountryWatch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
    No portion of CountryWatch content can ever be reproduced or republished without expressed written consent from CountryWatch Editor in Chief.