The 116th Congress opened this week with little fanfare in the Senate, where all eyes were on whether there was still some hope a partial government shutdown could be prevented or at least concluded quickly. Things were very different in the House of Representatives, where a change in control led to a lot of children running around and pumping their fists in celebration.
I do mean children literally — I’m not trying to characterize the Democrat-controlled House and its 101 new members as juvenile, even if that day one called the president a ‘motherfucker’ (Rashida Tlaib) and another taunted Republicans on Twitter with ‘Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me, fellas’ (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who else?). Nancy Pelosi skillfully sewed up the speakership weeks ago, but no one seemed to have told her nine-year-old granddaughter Bella, who helped Pelosi cast her vote for herself and expressed enthusiastic delight each time she heard someone else make the same vote.
‘Our nation is at an historic moment. Two months ago, the American people spoke and demanded a new dawn,’ Pelosi declared as she accepted the gavel and invited all the children in the room — and there were many, not just her own nine grandchildren — to gather around her.
Pelosi is 78 years old and fended off a half-hearted rebellion by Democrats who wanted a fresh face to lead the party as it prepares to make a go at the White House in 2020. Her remarks showed she still saw the Democratic takeover as a new beginning, for politicians and the people. ‘When our new members take the oath, our Congress will be refreshed and our democracy will be strengthened by the optimism, idealism, and patriotism of this transformative freshman class,’ she went on to say. ‘We must be pioneers of the future.’
She was sworn in and immediately intoned, ‘I now call the House to order on behalf of all of America’s children.’
But this scene was about as bold, original, and inspiring as the policy program Pelosi outlined in her speech, which included ‘protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security’ and facing ‘the existential threat of our time: the climate crisis.’ (Though I bet if you didn’t know Pelosi had uttered this line, you might guess it had been bandied about the White House: ‘We have heard from too many families who wonder, in this time of innovation and globalization, if they have a place in the economy of tomorrow.’)
The same backdrop, in fact, was in place when Pelosi first gained the speaker’s gavel, in 2007. Lawmakers and their aides on both sides of the House had brought their children to the opening, and Pelosi urged them all to join her at the podium (not just her grandchildren, as some outlets reported). Some Republican staffers’ children wound up almost front and center in the photographs. At least this time the children were different. Pelosi’s deputies are the same now as they were over a decade ago: Maryland’s Steny Hoyer is majority leader and South Carolina’s Jim Clyburn is majority whip.
Many Democrats were unenthusiastic about the idea of Pelosi 2.0 but couldn’t find anyone suitable enough — or brave enough — to challenge her for the top spot. Others seem to see her return as a Second Coming. Hakeem Jeffries, who won the more contested race for head of the House Democratic Caucus, nominated Pelosi on the floor and began his remarks thus: ‘The scripture says that weeping may endure during the long night, but joy will come in the morning.’
The next part of his speech suggests that if he ever changes his party, he’ll have an easy in to speechwriting at the White House. ‘Without question, Nancy Pelosi has a track record of legislative success that is unparalleled in modern American history,’ he declared. ‘Nancy Pelosi captained the ship that defeated the effort to privatize social security, rescued our economy in the midst of the Great Recession, saved the American automobile industry…’ (I’ll spare you the rest—if only congressional speeches were limited to 240 characters.) There’s more to come, though! ‘But Nancy Pelosi is just getting started,’ Jeffries assured us.
Those are big boasts. President Trump had some of his own the next day, asking on Twitter, ‘How do you impeach a president who has won perhaps the greatest election of all time, done nothing wrong (no Collusion with Russia, it was the Dems that Colluded), had the most successful first two years of any president, and is the most popular Republican in party history 93 percent?’ Gosh. With Donald Trump at the head of the executive branch and Nancy Pelosi the leader of half the legislative branch, there’s no telling where America might go next.