Brian Messing, Managing Editor
On Jan. 3, a new congress convened in Washington D.C. With a 17-seat majority, Democrats were guaranteed control of the chamber following their gains made in the House last November during the mid-term elections. Although Democrats gained the majority, Pelosi’s return as Speaker was not a given. Many left-wing members of the Democratic caucus voiced concerns over Pelosi’s perceived lack of allegiance to their cause. Despite this, Pelosi was able to fend off challenges for the Speaker position from any potential rivals, and was the de facto Speaker-elect.
Pelosi needed 218 votes to become Speaker, and received 220. More than a dozen members of the Democratic caucus voted for someone else or “Present,” effectively abstaining from the vote to show their dissatisfaction with Pelosi. Pelosi’s election is her second stint as Speaker, as she previously served as Speaker from 2007 to 2011. Pelosi faced many calls to resign as House Democratic Leader when Democrats took massive losses in congressional elections in 2010 and 2014.
Pelosi’s return to her old job as Speaker means that she will be the presiding officer of the lower house of congress. It also gives her caucus committee chairmanships, allowing them to pass legislation and control the agenda of the house. Pelosi will need to work to maintain party unity given that her caucus’ left wing has greatly expanded since the last election, leading to members with more extreme ideologies.
Pelosi’s first order of business is an attempt to open the government again after the longest shutdown in history. The sticky point is the border wall. President Trump wants funding to make good on his campaign promise. Speaker Pelosi opposes this effort. Trump’s wall would cost $5.7 Billion, or one-tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget. The cost of the wall is not the main opposition, however. At this point, Pelosi’s opposition and Trump’s insistence are all based on a game of chicken. Whichever side flinches first and gives up is the loser, and each side is competing to either fund or stop the wall, respectively. This issue is amplified given the fact that the wall is a well-known symbol that people can identify with, for or against.
Once the government shutdown ends, D.C. will settle back into its divided state after a brief two-year period of united government. A great preview of this is the last six years under President Obama, with partial or complete Republican control of congress under a Democratic President. We will see lots of proposals narrowly pass the House of Representatives, only to die in the Senate. There will also be significant investigations, given that the opposition party now controls a house of congress. At the end of the day, little will get done as both sides try to score political points as they gear up for the 2020 Presidential Election.