WASHINGTON — Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio., was elected speaker of the House of Representatives as the 112th Congress convened for the first time Wednesday, returning divided government to the nation’s capital after a two year interlude.
A cheer went up from the House floor as the clerk announced Boehner’s formal election as the nation’s 53rd speaker, making him the country’s highest-ranking Republican and the next in line for the presidency behind Vice President Joe Biden.
“No longer can we kick the can down the road,” Boehner said in his first speech as speaker. ” The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions'”
He received the ceremonial gavel from outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who becomes the leader of the new Democratic minority. The day capped a remarkable political comeback for the 11-term congressman from Ohio who was voted out of his party’s House leadership in 1998.
“God bless you, Speaker Boehner,” said Pelosi as she handed over the gavel. Boehner raised it triumphantly in a victory salute. Pelosi becomes the leader of the new Democratic minority.
Boehner vowed to make the will of voters his priority, emphasizing that “the privilege of serving is temporary.” His speech maintained the low-key approach Boehner has taken to assuming the Speaker’s seat. While Pelosi celebrated her party’s ascent to power in 2007 with a $1,000-per-person fundraising concert featuring Tony Bennett, Boehner skipped the Republican equivalent at the posh W Hotel in downtown Washington on Tuesday, which featured signer LeAnn Rimes, for a private reunion with 10 of his 11 siblings.
Boehner also steered clear of partisan rhetoric in his speech. He did not directly address the new health care law, though in recent weeks he has suggested he will fight to overturn it. Instead, he vowed to increase accountability and focus on the Constitution. He also encouraged members of both parties to address grievances with him.
“You will not have the right to disrupt proceedings of the House, but you will always have the right to a robust debate,” he promised Democratic representatives.
Boehner told newsmen waiting outside his home Wednesday morning that his first priority is “to fix a broken institution,” according to CNN.
The son of a Cincinnati tavern owner, Boehner became known for his work as a member of the Gang of Seven, a group of reform minded conservatives first elected in 1988, and as a key player in the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
He took the oath of office from Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the dean of the House as its longest-serving member. He then administered the oath of office to all 441 members and delegates in the House.
Standing in line with his family to take a picture with Boehner, freshman Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., said he thinks the new speaker will lead the House back to its traditional role as the congressional body most responsive to the public.
“We have a full plate of issues, but I think the leadership really gets it,” Fincher said. “As Speaker Boehner said earlier today, this is the people’s house.”
Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Boehner’s aides Tuesday—a move designed to symbolize the theme of austerity and regard for the Constitution Boehner has repeatedly emphasized.
The 94 incoming members of the House of Representatives—the most new members in 20 years—arrived in Washington just days ago to take their seats in the now divided Congress. Of the 94 freshmen, 85 are Republicans.
The reversal of power in the House is unusual in American politics. It is only the third time the speaker’s gavel has crossed the aisle since 1955. It comes with congressional approval rating at 13 percent, a record-low as measured in the Gallup Poll.
Before the pomp and ceremony, the morning started with a bipartisan prayer service at St. Peter’s Catholic Church attended by many new and returning Congressmen.
Rep. Steny Hoyer,D-Md., the incoming minority whip, stopped outside to speak to the media before entering the service. He said he would be praying for more jobs and continued economic growth.
The prayer service may have been the last real bipartisan activity in Washington for at least the next several weeks. Boehner and Republicans have announced their intentions to begin immediate work on the repeal of the health care reforms passed by the Obama administration last year.