As the 116th Congress came into session, Nancy Pelosi was officially elected the new House Speaker on Thursday, January 3, defeating Republican nominee Kevin McCarthy through a total of 220 votes.
Having before served from 2007 to 2011, Pelosi’s win also marked her triumphant return as the only female House speaker in U.S. history to date, and made her the first person to take back the job after losing it in more than six decades.
“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,” said Pelosi in her speech, which included tributes to former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Quoting former President Reagan’s last speech as president, Pelosi said, “If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
Though President Donald Trump’s name was not mentioned at all in her speech, Pelosi did say the Democrats would be asking Republicans for help in ending the partial government shutdown that has resulted from Trump’s demand for the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“And in that spirit, Democrats will be offering the Senate Republican appropriations legislation to re-open government later today — to meet the needs of the American people, to protect our borders, and to respect our workers,” said Pelosi.
Pelosi vowed to make sure Congress would be “transparent, bipartisan, and unifying.”
In outlining the agenda for this year, Pelosi highlighted top priorities to be: tackling climate change through efforts like the creation of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, lowering health care costs, furthering LGBTQ rights through passing the Equality Act, tightening gun control, and protecting Dreamers.
“This House will be for the people! Empowered by our mandate, we will pursue our mission,” said Pelosi.
116th Congress most diverse in history
Pelosi also in her speech, highlighted the 116th Congress as being the most diverse in history, with over 100 women serving — the largest amount it has ever been.
“I am particularly proud to be the woman Speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks 100 years of women winning the right to vote, as we serve with more than 100 women in the House of Representatives — the highest number in history,” said Pelosi.
“Each of us comes to this chamber strengthened by the trust of our constituents and the love of our families,” she added.
Being the most diverse, the incoming class had numerous historic firsts.
Becoming the first Muslim women to join Congress were Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) who became the first Somali-American to be elected to Congress, and the first to don a hijab on the House floor; and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) who donned a traditional Palestinian thobe and became the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected.
Becoming the first Native American women to join Congress were Reps. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Deb Haaland (D-NM) who wore a traditional Pueblo dress.
Reps. Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia became the first Latina Congresswomen from Texas, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley became the first Black congresswoman to represent Massachusetts.
Then there was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who at 29 years old, became the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress.
Wearing all white in honor of the suffragette movement, Ocasio-Cortez also on Thursday, dealt with a publicized video of her dancing in college by posting another video of herself dancing outside her new office.
“I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous. Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too!,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez, though the poster of the original video did not state it was connected to the Republican party.
After becoming the first openly bisexual member of Congress in 2013, Kyrsten Sinema — Arizona’s first female senator — became the first openly bisexual person in the Senate.
While the large majority of women newcomers were Democrat, Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) was the only Republican woman to join in the freshmen class.
As a whole, the 116th Congress also now holds the most Black (55 members), Hispanic (39 members), and Asian-American and Pacific Islanders (20 members) in history. Among the new AAPIs is Fil-Am TJ Cox (D-Calif.).
“With 3 newly elected #AAPI Members of Congress bringing us to a history high of 20 AAPI Members in the 116th Congress, we couldn’t be more excited (or proud)!,” the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) tweeted.