The new Congress: Pelosi retakes House gavel as shutdown continues

Washington • The House of Representatives, which includes 63 new Democrats, on Thursday elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as speaker for a second time.

A new era of divided government arrived in Washington, as Democrats took control of the House amid a partial government shutdown now in its second week.

By the end of the day, Pelosi intends to push through legislation to reopen the government. But it has already been declared dead on arrival in the Republican-led Senate because it won't meet President Donald Trump's demand for billions in border wall funding.

Pelosi was greeted with multiple standing ovations among Democrats as she was nominated by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who hailed her work on behalf of the Democratic agenda.

“Let me be clear, House Democrats are down with NDP — Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi,” Jeffries said, in what was perhaps the first nod to a Naughty by Nature song in a nominating speech for House speaker.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., one of only 13 women in House GOP ranks, nominated Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., praising him as a leader who "will never compromise on our fundamental rights and freedoms" and "stand against the fraud of socialism."

House Republicans gave several standing ovations, including when Cheney said McCarthy supports efforts to "build the wall."

Shortly after the Democrats took control of the House on Thursday, Trump took to Twitter to praise Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and assert that the party "has never been stronger."

"We achieved historic wins with her help last year!" Trump wrote.

In the November midterms, Democrats made a net gain of 40 seats in the House, flipping control of the chamber. Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate by two seats.

The 115th Congress had gaveled out and the 116th convened Thursday afternoon, with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., a United Methodist pastor giving the opening prayer in the House.

"When we leave this place, we will, with your blessing, launch a bold attempt to become the architects of a kindlier nation," Cleaver said, calling for Congress "to rise as a legislative body above political selfishness" and "address the great challenges of this day, that are fraught with tribalism at home and turbulence abroad."

After the Pledge of Allegiance, the House began its quorum call. Not present was Mark Harris, the GOP candidate in North Carolina's 9th District, who said he planned to meet with investigators Thursday amid a probe into election fraud allegations.

Among the special guests present for the proceedings was singer Tony Bennett, who is in the front row of the speaker's suite overlooking the House floor. Directly behind him is Mickey Hart, drummer of the Grateful Dead. Pelosi's most loyal backers handed out MADAME SPEAKER pins.

Meanwhile in the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office to elected members in small groups.

As he prepared for his swearing-in as a senator from Utah, Mitt Romney brushed aside criticism from fellow Republicans over his op-ed criticizing President Trump.

"I'm not worried about what other people think about what I have to say," he said. "I just want to hear what they have to say about their priorities and their perspectives."

Romney, who appeared briefly outside his temporary office in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building, also defended the timing of his words.

"Some people said, 'Well, you should have waited a couple of months, or four months.' I'm not sure what makes special one time versus another, other than to do your very best from the beginning to describe what's important to you," he said.

Romney said it was "important as I step into the Senate in this new responsibility, to lay out my priorities and my perspectives, which I was able to do."

In the op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday night, Romney said Trump’s “most glaring” shortfall has been in shaping the character of the nation.

The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis, Elise Viebeck, Paul Kane, Sean Sullivan, David Weigel, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.