The Slatest

Pelosi Narrowly Wins Reelection as Speaker for New Congress

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wields the Speaker's gavel after being re-elected as Speaker and preparing to swear in members of the 117th House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. on January 3, 2021.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wields the Speaker’s gavel after being re-elected as Speaker and preparing to swear in members of the 117th House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. on January 3, 2021. ERIN SCOTT/Getty Images

House Democrats voted in favor of reelecting Rep. Nancy Pelosi as speaker for the 117th Congress on Sunday by a 216-209 vote, obtaining the position for the fourth, and potentially last, time. The vote was largely along party lines but considering Democrats hold such a narrow majority—the slimmest House majority for either party in two decades—Pelosi couldn’t afford to lose many votes. In the end only two Democrats voted for someone else—Rep. Jared Golden of Maine cast a vote for Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Conor Lamb chose Rep. Hakeem Jeffries while three others— Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia—voted present. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy received 209 votes from Republican lawmakers.

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In the past 34 years, only Pelosi and former congressman Dennis Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, won four terms as House speaker. Pelosi is the only woman in history to serve as speaker and has led the Democrats in the House since 2003. Although she won by a narrow majority, Pelosi faced a greater challenge to her leadership in 2019, when 15 Democrats opposed her election to speaker after the party spent eight years in the minority. Some Democrats acknowledged there wasn’t much room to argue considering their narrow majority. “We are just an extremely slim amount of votes away from risking the speakership to the Republican Party,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “It’s bigger than any one of us.”

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In a letter to colleagues Sunday morning, Pelosi said she was “confident that the Speaker’s election today will show a united Democratic Caucus.” The new Congress will be taking shape “during a time of extraordinary difficulty,” she added, noting that communities across the country have been “drastically affected by the pandemic and economic crisis.” The pandemic also marked the day in Congress as a special plexiglass chamber was set up so lawmakers who tested negative but were isolating after being exposed to the virus could still vote. Although Democrats largely kept distance from each other, many on the Republican side ignored guidelines and sat next to each other in the chamber.

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