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Democrats vote to end shutdown as Pelosi reclaims speakership
The 116th Congress formally began on Thursday, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was promptly elected speaker of the newly Democratic-led House, returning to the post she held from 2007 to 2011 and once again becoming the highest-ranking female politician in U.S. history.
Pelosi received 220 votes, while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) received 192. Fifteen Democrats refused to support Pelosi: three voted "present," four voted for Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), two voted for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and one each voted for former Vice President Joe Biden, Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. (The speaker of the House does not technically have to be a member of the chamber.)
McCarthy, meanwhile, suffered six defections: five GOP lawmakers voted for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), while one voted for Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY).
Surrounded by her grandchildren and the children of other House members, Pelosi was then sworn in as the 55th Speaker of House. "We enter this new Congress with a sense of great hope and confidence for the future, and deep humility and prayerfulness in the face of the challenges ahead," she said in her opening remarks. "Our nation is at a historic moment. Two months ago, the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn."
Hours later, in one of their first acts as the majority party, the House Democrats passed two bills aimed at ending the partial government shutdown now in its 14th day: one to fund the Department of Homeland Security through February, and another to fund the other shuttered agencies through September. The former passed in a 239-192 vote (supported by all 234 Democrats, and five Republicans), while the latter passed, 241-190 (supported by all 234 Democrats, and seven Republicans). Both measures maintain current funding levels, meaning there are no additional dollars appropriated for President Trump's border wall. (Trump has refused end the shutdown until $5 billion in spending is set aside for the wall).
The bills were immediately declared dead-on-arrival in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Wednesday that he would not put any measure up for a vote without Trump's approval. "The Senate will not waste its time considering a Democrat bill which cannot pass this chamber and which the president will not sign," he said. However, two members of his conference have already broken with McConnell on his refusal to consider the House continuing resolutions: Sen. Cory Gardner (D-CO) told The Hill that the Senate should pass the funding measures, while Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told Politico that the non-DHS bills should at least be approved. Both Gardner and Collins face tough re-election fights in Democratic-leaning states in 2020.
The White House issued a formal veto threat for the House-passed continuing resolutions Thursday, declaring: "If either [measure] were presented to the President, his advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."
The so-called "Big Eight" congressional leaders — House Speaker Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Senate Majority Leader McConnell, Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD), House Minority Leader McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-NY), and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) — will head to the White House today for another meeting with President Trump.
Both sides have drawn clear battle lines ahead of the summit. "Without a wall, you cannot have border security," Trump declared in a statement delivered from the White House briefing room Thursday, flanked by leaders from the National Border Patrol Council and the National ICE Council. Vice President Mike Pence echoed his message in an interview on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight": "If there's no wall, there's no deal," he said.
But asked by reporters Thursday if she would give Trump "even a dollar" for the border wall, Pelosi seemed unmoved. "A dollar? Yeah, a dollar. One dollar," she joked, adding: "The fact is, a wallisan immorality... It's a wall between reality and his constituents."
At 14 days, the current federal funding gap is now tied for the fourth-longest shutdown in U.S. history, and as the new Congress convened on Thursday, lawmakers did not seem optimistic about it ending any time soon. "I think there’s a very good possibility that this could be the longest shutdown that we’ve had in the history of Congress," House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC), a Trump ally, said.
"I don't see any quick resolution to this," said Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL). "I'm thinking we might be in for a long haul." Shelby cautioned that the shutdown could continue for "months and months."
The Trump Administration
Cabinet changes: President Trump is considering former Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to be the next Defense Secretary, the New York Times reported. Secretary James Mattis resigned last month, citing policy disagreements with the president; he planned to step down in February, but Trump pushed him out at the end of the year, designating Mattis' deputy Patrick Shanahan as Acting Secretary. Webb, a onetime Republican who served as an Assistant Secretary of Defense and as Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Regan, was also a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
--- With the year-end departures of Mattis, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, White House chief of staff John Kelly, and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, President Trump's 23-person Cabinet now includes six agency heads serving in an acting capacity. At least one of those acting chiefs will soon be promoted: according to Bloomberg, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to be formally nominated as the agency's permanent head once the government shutdown ends. In addition, the president on Thursday formally nominated William Barr, who served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, to once again lead the Justice Department. Barr's confirmation hearings have been scheduled for January 15 and 16.
House Democrats: The "Speaker" plaque on Nancy Pelosi's new office wasn't even up yet when she already began flexing her muscle Thursday, promising exhaustive investigations of President Trump from the new Democratic majority. In an interview with NBC News, Pelosi declined to rule out impeaching the president, while adding: "We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn't avoid impeachment for a political reason." Notably, she also took issue with the Justice Department guideline preventing a sitting president from being indicted, calling it "an open discussion in terms of the law."
--- While Pelosi has been cautious in her discussions of impeaching Trump, at least one freshman Democratic lawmaker was less circumspect on her first day in Congress on Thursday: in an event hosted by the progressive group MoveOn, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) promised, "We're gonna go in and impeach the mother f---er!" Per the Los Angeles Times, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) introduced articles of impeachment against Trump on Thursday, accusing the president of obstruction of justice by firing former FBI director James Comey.
--- Also Thursday: A group of House Democrats, led by Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), introduced a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller. The measure would allow any special counsel fired by the president to appeal their termination to a panel of federal judges, who could then reinstate the inquisitor.
Zinke: The Justice Department is investigating whether newly-departed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to his agency's inspector general's office, a potential criminal violation, according to the Washington Post. According to the Post: "Zinke, who left the Trump administration Wednesday, was facing two inspector general inquiries tied to his real estate dealings in his home state of Montana and his involvement in reviewing a proposed casino project by Native American tribes in Connecticut. In the course of that work, inspector general investigators came to believe Zinke had lied to them, and they referred the matter to the Justice Department to consider whether any laws were violated."
White House schedule
POTUS: At 11:30 a.m., President Trump meets with congressional leaders in the Situation Room.
At 2 p.m., he receives his intelligence briefing. At 3 p.m., he meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Senate: The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. Following leader remarks, the chamber will be in a period of morning business.
House: The House meets at 9 a.m. today. The chamber will continue consideration of H.Res. 6, the Democratic rules package for the 116th Congress. Today, the House will consider Title II of the package, which focuses on "restoring the legislative process." The provisions in Title II include reforms to make it more difficult to remove the House speaker, a requirement that the text of major bills be available for 72 hours before they are voted on by the House, and the creation of a Select Committee to Modernize Congress, a "bipartisan select committee to study ways to improve and modernize the operation of Congress."
Supreme Court schedule
The justices meet today for their Friday conference.
*All times Eastern