Today marks the beginning of the 116th session of the United States Congress, and with Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, we now have a chance to hope that divided government makes the next two years of the Trump presidency better than the hell of absolute Republican rule.
Barring some shock, Nancy Pelosi is set to be elected the new Speaker of the House. She will then become the first person to return to the speakership since Texas Democratic Rep. Sam Rayburn, who was first elected to Congress more than a century ago. While Pelosi’s rule was for a time seen as being in somewhat serious jeopardy, she wound up fending off the threats.
If elected, Pelosi will preside over a House that is more diverse than ever before, with more women, more people of color, and more members of the LGBTQ community. This congressional session will feature the first Muslim women, Native women, and the first Latina woman sent from Texas. It also features several new leftist stars, including democratic socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, as well as a progressive caucus that has perhaps its biggest chance ever to show its strength.
In an advance text of her acceptance speech which was released to reporters, Pelosi offered an explicit nod to her diverse new group of incoming colleagues, saying, “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 also acknowledged one of the left’s most pressing concerns: Climate change.
Calling it a “a crisis manifested in natural disasters of epic proportions,” Pelosi said that the new Democratic majority viewed tackling it as a “public health decision for clean air and clean water; an economic decision for America’s global preeminence in green technology; a security decision to keep us safe; and a moral decision to be good stewards of God’s creation.”
Climate change has become one of the key priorities for newly elected progressives like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had sparred with party leadership over the creation of a committee to address global warming—one which was eventually created, but will likely not be granted the legislative power to do much beyond make ineffectual recommendations.
While Democrats under Pelosi are readying a legislative agenda that will reportedly include massive scrutiny of the Trump administration and bills to bolster voting rights and ethics rules, Pelosi’s first challenge as speaker will be to navigate the ongoing governmental shutdown, which the president has stated he will only end if Democrats give him money to build his border wall between the U.S. and Mexico—something Pelosi emphatically rejected this morning.
Pelosi has pledged to introduce a number of bills today, based on bills that had previously passed both the House and the Senate, that will fund the portions of the government that have been shut down, but not include additional money for Trump’s wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who starting today will preside over an expanded majority of 53 Republicans—has already said that he will not allow any bills to pass the Senate without knowing that the president will ultimately sign them.
So, here we go.
Update, 1:54 p.m. ET: It’s official.
Update, 2:57 p.m. ET: It’s really official.