GOP takes control of both chambers as session starts
In a day of pageantry on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was re-elected to the chamber's highest-ranking position and Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., began work as Senate majority leader.
Frist, who was elected by his colleagues to replace embattled former Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., formally became party leader after he took to the Senate floor to ask for consideration of a series of procedural motions. With Lott eyeing him from two rows behind, Frist was recognized by Vice President Dick Cheney, leading to a round of applause from senators who crowded the floor.
Frist's tenure got off to a rocky start. He stumbled through a series of procedural motions as Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.-the Senate's leading defender of procedure-challenged Frist's moves like a seasoned veteran breaking in a rookie. Still, Frist kept his cool and slowly grew more confident, eventually winning the approval of Byrd. After Frist flawlessly called for the Senate to begin a period of morning business, Byrd nodded his head approvingly as senators broke into applause.
In a brief speech, Frist promised to work closely with Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "We will find common ground to bridge this aisle," Frist promised. Daschle said, "I have little doubt that we will be led well and we will be led fairly."
In the House, Republicans turned back the nomination for speaker of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after a 228-201 manual roll call vote, with four members voting present, Hastert and conservative Democratic Reps. Ralph Hall and Charles Stenholm of Texas, and Ken Lucas of Kentucky. Another conservative Democrat, Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, voted for Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. By nominating Pelosi, Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey and House Democrats made history by placing a woman's name in contention for speaker. In an event Tuesday to mark Pelosi's ascension to minority leader, outgoing Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said Democrats would work to elect Pelosi to the top job. "My fervent prayer is two years from now we will have the handful of votes we need to make her the speaker of the House," Gephardt said.
Meanwhile, the House Republican Steering Committee, which has been interviewing candidates to lead committees, plans to meet Wednesday to make its recommendations to the full GOP Conference about new chairmen.
Under one scenario, the question of who will head a new select committee on homeland security depends on who becomes the next Government Reform chairman. Former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis of Virginia and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Christopher Cox of California are vying for the Government Reform Committee, as is Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. GOP sources say Davis and Cox are likely to end up in charge of either the Government Reform panel or the select committee. Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, has actively begun talking to GOP members about running for the Policy Committee position if Cox leaves that elected position.