WASHINGTON — Newly elected speaker John Boehner hailed the Republican Party's return to control of the House Wednesday, vowing a more open legislative process but acknowledging that "a great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle."
GOP lawmakers, who picked up 64 House seats in the November elections, cheered loudly when Boehner defeated Democrat Nancy Pelosi in the roll call for speaker. The veteran Ohio lawmaker's rise to the speakership was virtually guaranteed by his party's midterm triumphs, which ended Pelosi's four-year reign.
The new Senate also convened Wednesday, with Vice President Joe Biden administering the oath to lawmakers he had campaigned for and against last fall. Senators moved quickly to a debate over filibuster rules, with Democratic and Republican leaders accusing each other of obstructing progress and trying to game the parliamentary system.
But most eyes were on the House, where the new GOP majority has vowed to battle President Barack Obama on health care, spending, taxes and other issues.
Boehner, the perpetually tanned legislator who rose, fell and rose again in Republican leadership contests over the past two decades, told a packed chamber that Congress must tackle tough issues such as cutting spending and reducing the deficit.
"No longer can we kick the can down the road," he said.
But far-reaching accords will be difficult in Washington, where Democrats still control the Senate and Obama wields veto powers.
In the House, children and grandchildren of new lawmakers fidgeted, temporarily lending lighter moments to a chamber certain to see fierce debates and partisan votes in the next two years. House Republicans, for instance, plan to vote within days to overturn Obama's 2010 health care overhaul, but they acknowledge it's a symbolic gesture because the Senate will not concur.
Nineteen House Democrats refused to vote for Pelosi as speaker, baring the lingering wounds from last fall's bitter elections. Countless GOP campaign ads had depicted Pelosi and her allies as out-of-touch liberals. Eleven House Democrats kept campaign promises Wednesday by voting for fellow centrist Heath Shuler, D-N.C.
The GOP's dramatic election gains will give the party a 242-193 edge in the House. Many freshman Republicans are hardcore conservatives with tea party connections, and Boehner may struggle at times to keep his caucus unified, especially on contentious matters such as raising the federal debt limit.
The day's ceremonies ended two years of Democratic dominance in Washington and ushered in a divided government in the run-up to the 2012 congressional and presidential elections. With campaigns but a short time away, Obama and congressional Republicans are set to square off over the size of government and the taxpayer dollars it spends.
Fresh from a Hawaii vacation, Obama told reporters he expects Republicans initially to "play to their base."
"But I'm pretty confident that they're going to recognize that our job is to govern and make sure that we are delivering jobs for the American people," he added. "My hope is that John Boehner and (Senate GOP leader) Mitch McConnell will realize that there will be plenty of time to campaign for 2012 in 2012."
Biden reveled in his role as president of the Senate, swearing in 35 senators — several of whom he campaigned against last fall.
A congenial, back-slapping atmosphere prevailed, and numerous former senators — including former Vice President Dan Quayle — escorted home state colleagues to the Senate well to be sworn in. His son, Ben Quayle, was among the new House members being sworn in on the other side of the building.
Several tea party favorites, like Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., promise to make life complicated for returning Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., himself a survivor of a costly campaign against tea party-backed Sharron Angle.
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