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Boehner elected House speaker as 112th Congress convenes

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was elected speaker of the House Wednesday, ending the time of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the helm.

The American people "have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them," Boehner said. "That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people's House. This is their Congress. It's about them, not about us."

In introducing Boehner as the new speaker, Pelosi said: "Our most important job is to fight for American jobs. . . . And so Democrats will judge what comes before Congress by whether it creates jobs, strengthens our middle class, and reduces the deficit - not burdening future generations with debt.

When Boehner and the new GOP majority "come forward with solutions that address these American challenges, you will find us a willing partner," she said.

As Pelosi acknowledged the new speaker's wife, Debbie Boehner, in the audience, an emotional Boehner wiped tears from his eyes with a handkerchief.

After the speeches, however, signs of the old partisanship resurfaced in debate over the new House rules package. It includes a GOP provision to strip D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and five other Democratic representatives - from Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico - of their ability to vote in the House's Committee of the Whole, which includes the entire membership of the House. Delegates have been allowed to vote in the Committee of the Whole since 2007, when a new Democratic majority restored that right. Traditionally, delegates are permitted to vote in committees, although they are barred from participating in floor votes in the full House.

The rules package also includes provisions designed to curb spending. It replaces the Democrats' "pay-as-you-go" rules, known as "pay-go," with what Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) called "cut-go."

"Rather than pair spending with . . . job-killing tax increases," he said, "we will pair it with spending cuts."

But Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the new minority whip, said the rules package "authorizes trillions of dollars of new debt without paying for it."

He also said he would seek to amend the rules to maintain the right of delegates to vote in the Committee of the Whole, thereby returning "this symbol of respect, this symbol of inclusion, this symbol of colleagueship . . . to our six representatives of American citizens."

The House rules package later easily passed a procedural vote.

Day 1 of the 112th Congress began with prayers and lots of promises: to rein in the federal government, to repeal the health-care law, to fix the economy, to work together - or not.

With the swearing-in Wednesday afternoon of the House members - including 87 new Republican members and nine new Democrats - control of the chamber officially shifted to the GOP.

And while Republicans will swiftly seek to undo major aspects of Obama's legislative agenda, Democrats - with few other options - are pledging to continue the compromise-oriented approach that guided their unexpectedly productive lame-duck session in December.

Wednesday's schedule of events began with a private prayer service at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Capitol Hill that was attended by, among others, Boehner, Pelosi, new Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and new Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md).

The Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, the House chaplain, opened the service, which was closed to the press. Pelosi and Cantor read selections of Scripture, according to the program.

Boehner, 61, a Roman Catholic with working-class roots, was the first to arrive at the church, CNN reported. He was accompanied by his wife, Debbie, their two daughters, Lindsay and Tricia, 10 of his 11 siblings and other family members.

According to CNN, Boehner told reporters camped outside his house earlier in the day that his top priority was "to fix a broken institution," adding: "The sun is out, and the American people are in charge."

At midday, the first order of business in the House was formally electing Boehner as speaker. Pelosi later addressed the lawmakers to introduce Boehner, who delivered his own speech before taking the oath of office and administering the oath to the rest of the lawmakers en masse.

"Our aim will be to give government back to the people," Boehner said. He added, "We will part with some of the rituals that have come to characterize this institution under majorities Republican and Democratic alike.

"We will dispense with the conventional wisdom that bigger bills are always better; that fast legislating is good legislating; that allowing additional amendments and open debate makes the legislative process 'less efficient' than our forefathers intended."

The rest of the afternoon in the House will be taken up by photo-op swearing-in ceremonies for individual House members.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Vice President Biden administered the oath of office for senators elected or reelected in November. Biden swore in the new or returning senators by alphabetical order in groups of four.

Several blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue, the Obama administration will be dealing with its own transitions, most notably the departure - confirmed Wednesday - of White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

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