New Congress: Boehner re-elected Speaker, Sen. Kirk returns after stroke
WASHINGTON — The House and Senate ushered in a new Congress Thursday, re-electing embattled Republican John Boehner as speaker and hailing one of their own who returned a year after being felled by a stroke.
The 113th Congress convened at 12 noon EST, the constitutionally mandated time, with pomp, pageantry and politics on both sides of the Capitol.
Boehner, bruised after weeks of trying to cajole his fractious caucus to back a tax and spending cut bill, won a second, two-year term as leader with 220 votes. Despite grumbling in the GOP ranks, nine Republicans voted for someone other than Boehner, one voted present and several abstained.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi got 192 votes.
In a chamber packed with members and their children, Pelosi delivered a generous introduction to her rival and handed the gavel to Boehner, who struggled to hold back tears.
Boehner alluded to the continuing fight over government spending that was far from settled by the tax deal with President Barack Obama. Fierce battles loom in the coming weeks over automatic spending cuts and increasing the nation's borrowing authority.
"The American Dream is in peril so long as its namesake is weighed down by this anchor of debt. Break its hold, and we begin to set our economy free. Jobs will come home. Confidence will come back," Boehner said.
Addressing the 80-plus new members, Boehner told them that if they came "to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. "
"The door is behind you," he said. "If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve; if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people; if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not just by our constituents but by the times, then you have come to the right place."
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest serving member, administered the oath to Boehner, who then swore in the members.
In the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden swore in 12 new members elected in November, lawmakers who won another term and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott, a former House member tapped by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the remaining term of Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned to head a Washington think tank.
Applause from members and the gallery marked every oath-taking. Looking on was former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Shortly before the session, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who had been absent for the past year while recovering from a stroke, slowly walked up the 45 steps to the Senate, with Biden nearby and the Senate leaders at the top of the stairs to greet him.
"A courageous man," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Members of the Illinois congressional delegation and senators stood on the steps.
As he entered the building, resting on a cane, Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., helped Kirk take off his coat. The senator said he was glad to be back.
While the dozens of eager freshmen are determined to change Washington, they face the harsh reality of another stretch of divided government. The traditions come against the backdrop of a mean season that closed out an angry election year.
A deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" of big tax increases and spending cuts split the parties in New Year's Day votes, and the House's failure to vote on a Superstorm Sandy aid package before adjournment prompted GOP recriminations against the leadership.
Any hope of comity in a divided Washington was quickly dashed amid talk of the budget.
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