New Congress convenes under Democratic control

By Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro
Reuters
Friday, January 5, 2007; 8:40 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats took control of the 110th Congress on Thursday, promising to challenge President George W. Bush's Iraq war policies, help the needy and -- in response to recent scandals -- clean up how lawmakers do business.

On the opening day of the two-year Congress, Nancy Pelosi, a liberal California Democrat, was sworn in as the first woman to lead the U.S. House of Representatives as its speaker.

The convening of the new House and Senate marked the first time in his six years as president that Bush will not have fellow Republicans in control of either legislative body.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said: "The war in Iraq will cast a long shadow over the Senate's work this year."

Pelosi delivered her first speech as House speaker, warning that the November 7 congressional elections were "a call to change" that went far beyond Democrats' taking power from Republicans.

"Nowhere were the American people more clear about the need for a new direction than in Iraq," Pelosi said, adding voters "rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end."

Democrats are expected to use their newly acquired committee chairmanships to build public support for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq with a series of hearings examining the buildup and prosecution of the conflict.

On another front, the House approved a package of rule changes to curb ties between lawmakers and lobbyists that led to influence-peddling scandals the past two years that helped Democrats win control of Congress. The Senate is expected to soon consider a similar package of its own.

The House package bans gifts and trips from lobbyists, restricts privately funded junkets and prohibits members from threatening retaliation against firms that hire people who do not share their political affiliation.

Republicans complained Democrats refused to permit amendments to the package, but joined them in approving it on a vote of 430-1.

TOUGH ETHICS REFORM

"In order to achieve a new America, we must return this House to the American people," Pelosi said. "So our first order of business is passing the toughest ethics reform in history."


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