After twelve years of undisputed Republican majority in the United States Congress, opposition Democrats on Thursday took control of both houses with Representative Nancy Pelosi becoming the first female speaker ever in the House.
"The Democrats are back," rejoiced Pelosi, who immediately set the rank-and-file to work passing tougher ethics rules. Ms Pelosi will be leading Congress for the final two years of President George Bush and as speaker of the House automatically becomes third in the line of succession behind vice president Dick Cheney. As is customary, the opening moments of the Congress produced pledges of bipartisanship but Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled a new political order when they swiftly challenged Bush over the war in Iraq. "No issue in our country is more important than finding an end to this intractable war," said Reid, D-Nev. "Completing the mission in Iraq is the president's job, and we will do everything in our power to ensure he fulfills it". Bush is expected to announce a revised strategy next week for the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. armed forces. The return of the Democrats also means the return to power for men long used to wielding it such as Liberals Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan who are again committee chairmen. In the Senate Vice President Dick Cheney administered the oath of office to 33 new and newly re-elected senators. Former President Clinton watched from the gallery as his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was sworn in for a second term from New York. It fell to Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the new House Republican leader, to hand the gavel -- symbol of the speaker's authority -- to Pelosi. "Whether you're a Republican, Democrat or an independent, this is a cause for celebration," he said, noting her place in history. But he also gave notice to the party she leads, adding, "Republicans will hold the incoming majority accountable for its promises, and its actions". Leader of minority Republicans Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said it was time to put an end to "a culture of partisanship over principle" adding that cooperation was clearly possible on minimum wage and lobbying bills, as well as compromise on issues such as Social Security and immigration. Majority leader Reid said he was eager for cooperation, insisting that "we must turn the page on partisanship and usher in a new era of bipartisan progress". However "the president has 22 months left in office. If he wants to accomplish anything, he will have to work with us in Congress to pass bipartisan legislation" he said. In the two months since the election, both Reid and Pelosi have promised longer hours in Congress. While Thursday was set aside for ceremony and celebration in the Senate, the House plunged immediately into work on the agenda that Democrats campaigned on last fall. Despite Republican procedural protests, Democrats said they had the votes to assure passage of rules changes designed to end what they long called a "culture of corruption". House Democrats also have an ambitious agenda for the next few weeks having pledged to pass bills to raise the minimum wage, expand the opportunity for federally funded stem cell research, make Medicare prescription drugs cheaper, reduce the cost of student loans, implement anti-terror measures and reduce tax breaks enjoyed by the oil industry -- all before Bush goes to the Capitol on Jan. 23 for his State of the Union address. On Wednesday in a column published by The Wall Street Journal President George Bush anticipated his willingness to cooperate with the new Congress and Democrat majority but warned that if "Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chose stalemate". "If a different approach is taken, the next two years can be fruitful ones for our nation. We can show the American people that Republicans and Democrats can come together to find ways to help make America a more secure, prosperous and hopeful society", wrote President Bush, who recalled the wisdom of the concept of divided and effective government. "The majority party in Congress gets to pass the bills it wants. The minority party, especially where the margins are close, has a strong say in the form bills take. And the Constitution leaves it to the president to use his judgment whether they should be signed into law", said Bush in his column titled "What the Congress can do for America. Let them say of these next two years: We used our time well".