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110th Congress sworn in today

Democrats take over both the House and Senate

 By Lori Stokes

(Washington-WABC, January 4, 2007) - There was a major shift of power in the Capitol Thursday.

As the 110th Congress convenes, Democrats took control of both houses for the first time in 12 years.

And for the very first time, a woman is leading them, as Speaker of the House.

We have Eyewitness News team coverage from Washington, starting with anchor Lori Stokes.

It was really Congress at its finest hours. Both parties welcoming and embracing Nancy Pelosi to become the first female Speaker of the House. She is a seasoned politician who got right down to business and set the tone for the new Congress.

"I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship," Pelosi said.

History was made as Pelosi was sworn in.

"In this house, we may be different parties," Pelosi said. "But we serve one country."

Still, it didn't take long for the new speaker to go after President Bush and the war in Iraq.

"The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end," Pelosi said. "It is the responsibility of the president to articulate a new plan for Iraq that makes it clear to the Iraqis that they must defend their own streets."

And for the first time in 12 years, Democrats are in control of both the House and the Senate.

"Lets work together," New York Senator Hillary Clinton said. "You know, maybe we'll have to each give up a little something that is important to us, but lets not shut each other out again."

"This can either be cooperation to get results or it can be both sides standing firm and nothing getting done," New York Representative Peter Kind said. "And that's going to be the test."

Democrats already set an ambitious agenda for the first 100 hours of legislation, including to implementation the outstanding 911 Commission recommendations, raise the minimum wage and provide more federal funding for stem cell research.

After 35 years in Congress, New York's Charles Rangel becomes chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

"We have work to do, and I don't think people are looking for a Republican or a Democratic solution," Rangel said. "They elect the Congress, they want us to work, they pay us, and we have to clean up the corruption that exists in the institution."

So, are we seeing those signs of bi-partisanship that everyone has been talking about? Eyewitness News political reporter has that side of the story.

All this talk today of bi-partisanship and cooperation from both Republicans and Democrats sounds awfully nice. But remember, in the Senate, you have to have 60 votes to get anything done. Democrats don't have that many votes there. And the president still has veto power. And what the experts in Washington say that all probably means is more gridlock.

"The House will come to order," Pelosi said, banging the gavel.

Democrats had barely taken control of Congress when Republicans began complaining of unfairness. Representative Vito Fossella, of Staten Island, says the Democrats are moving way too fast on issues like homeland security.

Republicans are ticked Democrats have forbidden discussion on amendments in the first 100 hours of work.

"That effectively, they said, if you're a Republican, from New York or from anyplace across the country, your opinion doesn't count," Fossella said. "And I think that's a mistake."

"If the Republicans want to criticize the Democrats right out of the box for getting too much done, we'll have that argument every time," Democratic New York Representative Anthony Weiner said.

President Bush yesterday offered Democrats an olive branch, as a call to work in a bi-partisan way.

"I"m hopeful that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground to serve our folks," Bush said.

Today, Democrats tried to strike the same tone, but they point out that they won in November, and not the Republicans.

"I think there's a real intention to work in a different tone and a different environment," New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez said. "That doesn't mean, however, that when you're in the minority, you get to have your way.

One of the most difficult issues Congress must now tackle is what to do about Iraq and how to get our troops home. But it's not only the president's problem now.

"Democrats can't have it both ways now," Connecticut Representative Chris Shayes said. "They're in the majority, so they can't criticize the conduct of the war and then wash their hands of it."

In Washington, there is an extensive history of Vice President Dick Chaney and Congressman Charlie Rangel not seeing eye to eye. And with his new job as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rangel has offices all around Washington. One of those new offices happens to have been recently vacated by Chaney. Rangel, this morning, said Chaney never had any business on that side of the Capital anyway.

Now back to Lori Stokes.

Also, Rangel and other senior Democrats are going to have to keep in mind that they have to compromise with the newer Democrats, particularly the ones who came in after 1994. A lot of them are moderate. A lot of them are conservatives. So that is also something we'll have to keep a watchful eye on.

There was another Congressional first, as the first Muslim was sworn in to the House of Representatives.

And as a symbol of his faith, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison placed his hand on the Koran during his ceremonial swear-in today. It was a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

The 43-year-old Democrat converted to Islam in college, but says his religious affiliation does not drive his politics.

(Copyright 2007-WABC-TV)

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