WASHINGTON – Returning to power for the first time in 12 years, House Democrats on Thursday elected Nancy Pelosi as the first woman speaker and moved swiftly to adopt rules to rein in the influence of lobbyists.
Pelosi and new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., put President Bush on notice that they intend to press for a new U.S. policy on Iraq.
“The election of 2006 was a call to change – not merely to change the control of Congress, but for a new direction for our country,” Pelosi said. “Nowhere were the American people more clear about the need for a new direction than in the war in Iraq.”
Leaders of both parties pledged to promote a spirit of bipartisanship. But a partisan fight broke out in the House within hours as Republicans complained about how the Democrats pushed through new ethics rules.
The rules for the first time will ban lobbyist-paid gifts and meals, and prohibit House members from flying on corporate jets. The Senate is expected to take up its own new ethics rules next week.
Pelosi’s election as the first female speaker generated the most excitement on the opening day of the 110th Congress, with lawmakers bringing children and grandchildren to the chamber to witness history. Pelosi, who brought her six grandchildren, was elected on a party line vote of 233-202 in a roll call that featured some brief, flowery tributes from Democratic colleagues who took note of the milestone.
“It’s an historic moment for the Congress. It’s an historic moment for the women of America,” said Pelosi, who is second behind the vice president in the line of succession to the presidency. “It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years.”
After swearing in the representatives, including 55 new members, House Democrats turned to ethics reform, an issue they chose to highlight after a spate of scandals in the GOP-controlled Congress contributed to their majorities in the House and Senate.
Republicans objected that Democrats were muscling through the rules without giving the minority an opportunity to shape the legislation, a complaint that Democrats often made when Republicans were power.
In the end, however, Republicans joined Democrats in a 430-1 vote to support the new rules, with only Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., opposed.
Common Cause, an ethics watchdog, called the new rules a “step in the right direction,” but said it hopes Congress will create an independent ethics commission to enforce the rules. Democratic leaders have pledged to study the idea.
The new rules also prohibit representatives from bullying lobbying firms to hire employees of their party affiliation. The rule is a reaction to the so-called K Street Project, an initiative of former house Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, which sought to pressure lobbying firms to hire Republicans and contribute to GOP candidates.