Pelosi was re-elected as Speaker of the US Home of Representatives amid political uncertainty
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The US Capitol dome can be seen in Washington at night
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new U.S. Congress took place on Sunday in an atmosphere of political uncertainty where Senate control remained undecided, a smaller Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and a Republican battle over the results of the presidential election.
The House began to vote on the re-election of California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker. That prospect became more difficult after the Democrats lost 11 seats in the November election to a narrow majority of 222-212. Voting should take hours due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Remaining Republican running Tuesday ahead of Georgia’s double elections, the Senate provides a platform for its members to re-open the unsubstantiated claims by President Donald Trump that his loss to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden was the result of fraud spread.
Multiple state and federal reviews have revealed no evidence of the type of widespread fraud Trump is alleging, but Republican senators and members of the House of Representatives plan to question the election result if Congress confirms it on Wednesday.
A Republican push led by Senator Ted Cruz for a 10-day emergency review of election results in embattled battlefield states was criticized on Sunday by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (NYSE :), a staunch ally of Trump.
“It seems like a political evasive maneuver rather than an effective tool,” Graham said in a statement. “I’ll listen carefully. But you have a high bar to clarify.”
The closer balance of power in both chambers this year could also encourage the moderates of either party to flex their political muscles, especially after Trump left the White House on Jan. 20 and Biden, who ran as a centrist, took office.
But leaders in both the House and Senate tried to sound optimistic despite mounting challenges.
“From political division to a deadly pandemic to adversaries around the world, there are many hurdles that are serious,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said in the Senate.
“But there is reason to be hopeful,” added the Kentucky Republican, referring to the ongoing adoption of the coronavirus vaccine. “I would say 2021 looks bright.”
House majority leader Steny Hoyer, the Chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, also said in a statement that he hoped the new Congress would “turn the page” of the partisan division and begin a new chapter of Democratic-Republican cooperation. ”
A smaller Democratic majority and the still raging coronavirus pandemic could make re-election as spokeswoman for Pelosi, the only woman to ever hold a job, more difficult. But Pelosi and her lieutenants are confident that she will succeed.
The smaller caucus means less room for dissident Democrats to vote against Pelosi without risking Republican leader Kevin McCarthy gaining the spokesmanship instead.
Michigan Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin said she would “vote in” rather than support Pelosi. “It’s not personal. It’s not malicious. It just represents a feeling in my district,” she told reporters. “We need a different harvest (from leaders) that represents a larger part of the country.”
Ten out of 15 Democrats who voted against Pelosi’s offering to speak two years ago are returning, and some newly elected progressives, Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush, recently declined to say whether they would support them.
“I think she will have the votes,” Hoyer told reporters last week. “We weren’t … working as hard as we were working to keep the majority so we could set guidelines and give that up.”
The leaders announced social distancing guidelines that restricted access to no more than 72 lawmakers at a time and forced lawmakers to vote in groups.
In the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence swore 32 senators on Sunday and took the oath in pairs due to COVID-19 restrictions.
A Republican win of one or both seats in the Georgia Senate, which is up for election on Tuesday, would cement the Republican majority headed by Mitch McConnell.
Twin Democratic victories in Georgia would produce a 50:50 Senate in which Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would hold a tie once she is sworn in on Jan. 20.