The top House Democrat since 2003 and the only woman to ever serve as speaker, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) won a fourth term as leader of the House on Sunday, Jan. 3, in a 216-209 partisan vote.
Pelosi’s re-election marks an important milestone in U.S. history: Come Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, both people next in line for presidential succession will be women—Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and Speaker Pelosi.
But Pelosi’s upcoming term is likely to be tumultuous. With the Democratic majority in the House falling from 237 to 222, and the Senate balance yet to be decided by Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff election, Pelosi is likely to continue facing obstruction from Republicans. This is of particular concern in early 2021, as Congress continues to clash over its COVID-19 legislative response.
In her speech accepting the position of House Speaker, Pelosi directly addressed COVID—an elephant in the room given that Republicans and Democrats clashed over mask wearing. In fact, on a call ahead of the vote, Pelosi said her real opponent in the race for speaker was the virus itself, as Democrats initially feared that illness could have prevented key members from participating in the vote. Ultimately, all representatives wore masks for safety, and voted in-person in waves of approximately 72 members at a time, to avoid crowding the chamber.
“As we are sworn in today, we accept a responsibility as daunting and demanding as any previous generation of leadership have ever faced,” Pelosi said in her Sunday remarks before the House. “We begin this new Congress during a time of extraordinary difficulty. Each of our communities has been drastically, drastically affected by the pandemic and its economic crisis: 350,000 tragic deaths, we sadly carry them in our hearts; over 20 million infections; millions without jobs—a toll beyond comprehension.”
She continued on to congratulate freshmen members, many of whom supported Pelosi despite varying approaches to progressivism—like Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who said:
“Our country needs stability right now, and it’s really important for the Democratic Party to come together.”
Longer-serving representatives also joined in congratulating Pelosi on her continued leadership:
“Nancy Pelosi will be the next Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and I look forward to placing her name into nomination as part of my responsibilities as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
“There is incredible enthusiasm for Speaker Pelosi because she’s done the work, and she’s been a historic, legendary legislative leader through incredibly turbulent times. We’ve been through a lot of trials and tribulations as Americans. Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, has helped to guide us through that and we look forward to her continuing in that capacity.”—Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)
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The incoming presidential administration shared in the celebration, having expressed support for Pelosi in the past. Upon her nomination for Speaker in November, Biden’s transition team said the president-elect “looks forward to working with her and Democratic leadership in the House on a shared agenda to get COVID-19 under control and build our economy back better.”
In his official statement, Biden voiced strong confidence in Pelosi’s leadership, calling upon Congress to unite for the sake of its common goals.
Jill and I extend our warmest congratulations to Speaker Pelosi on her well-deserved reelection today as Speaker of the House of Representatives. A trailblazing leader — and one of the most effective and accomplished legislators in our nation’s history — I have no doubt that Speaker Pelosi will continue to lead the House with dignity, principle, and patriotic resolve. As our country begins to emerge from this period of pain and loss in the months to come, we have an extraordinary opportunity ahead of us to unite around our values and make unprecedented progress as a nation.—Joe Biden, president-elect of the U.S.
Pelosi also used her speech on Jan. 3 to highlight her constituents in California’s 12th District:
“In that spirit, I thank my constituents in San Francisco, San Francisco, California, who have entrusted me to represent them in the spirit of Saint Francis, the patron saint of our city, whose anthem, the song of St. Francis, is our anthem of our city: ‘Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.’”
The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom (D), applauded Pelosi’s service in a high-ranking role.
“It gives me great pride to serve as Speaker of the most diverse House in the history of our country—with a record-shattering 122 women. One hundred and twenty two women. You can applaud that: 122 women, 100 years after women won the right to vote,” Pelosi said.
Thirteen years after being elected the first woman Speaker of the House, Pelosi’s leadership continues to mark success for women in American politics.
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