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Boehner Takes Gavel As New House Gets To Work

MICHEL NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel at the Capitol.

(Soundbite of gavel)

SIEGEL: With the whack of the gavel, the new Congress opened today. John Boehner and the newly-elected Republican majority took over the House of Representatives.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Welcome to the people's house, welcome to the 112th Congress.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: In just a moment, we'll look ahead with two members of Congress we've been following since they were first elected back in 2006.

But, first, NPR's Audie Cornish reports on the day's big event.

AUDIE CORNISH: With just minutes to go before the start of the new Congress, freshmen lawmakers were still ducking into the lavish red carpeted speakers lobby for their welcome packets.

Representative CEDRIC RICHMOND (Democrat, Louisiana): Oath of office, license plates and our pens and our voting card.

CORNISH: Meet freshman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, ranked number 413 in seniority out of 435 House members. And Steve Stivers from Ohio, he's a Republican, he's number 426. But Stivers is still smiling, unlike Richmond, who's one of just nine new Democrats, the Ohio Republican is entering with a GOP freshman class of more than 80, and he's eager to get to work.

Representative STEVE STIVERS (Republican, Ohio): Everything has its pomp and circumstance, but I want to get to work and focus on trying to do some things to help get people back to work. Also, I think we got to focus on cutting the size and scope of government.

CORNISH: But, first, they had to get down to the business of choosing their leaders.

Unidentified Woman #1: The roll will now be called and those responding to their names will indicate by surname the nominee of their choosing.

CORNISH: This is mostly ceremonial since both Republicans and Democrats have held their caucus elections. But the roll call highlighted the new balance of power. Ohio Republican John Boehner's name rang out in the chamber 241 times.

Unidentified Woman #2: Boehner.

CORNISH: Democrats mostly fell in line behind Nancy Pelosi. But there were chinks in the California Democrats' armor.

Unidentified Woman #3: Boren.

Representative DAN BOREN (Democrat, Oklahoma): Shuler.

Unidentified Woman #3: Shuler.

CORNISH: Nearly a dozen Blue Dog Democrats voted for someone else - Heath Shuler of North Carolina. But in the end, Republican John Boehner was the victor, of course.

Unidentified Woman #1: The honorable John A. Boehner of the state of Ohio having received the majority of the votes cast is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives of the 112th Congress.

(Soundbite of cheering)

CORNISH: Unbowed, the first woman speaker of the House took to the floor and in her parting remarks, Nancy Pelosi made one last attempt to defend the Democrats' agenda.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): We have made the largest ever commitment to making college more affordable.

(Soundbite of applause)

Rep. PELOSI: Enacted Wall Street reform with the greatest consumer protections in history and passed a strong patients' bill of rights.

(Soundbite of applause)

CORNISH: And then Pelosi handed over the gavel and the power to Speaker John Boehner. Boehner already had his handkerchief at the ready, but the trademark tears were in short supply as he outlined the first order of business - a new package of rules he said would make the House operate more openly. But Boehner also made it clear Republicans heard the message from the elections.

Rep. BOEHNER: No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin to carry out their instructions.

CORNISH: To Democrats, Boehner pledged a more open process. But a first test of that will come quickly. Republicans are pushing to repeal the health care bill and it's unclear whether they'll allow Democrats any amendments.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.