Dems set to elect Pelosi first female House Speaker

Deutsche Presse Agentur/RAW STORY
Published: Thursday January 4, 2007
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Washington- A 66-year-old lawmaker from California was set to become the first female speaker of the US House of Representatives on Thursday, making history as President George W Bush's centre-left opponents take control of Congress. Nancy Pelosi - not exactly a household name for most Americans - helped the Democrats recapture both houses of Congress in November elections and has spearheaded a platform of measures the party wants to pass swiftly in the lower House.

Now, Pelosi's fellow lawmakers are due to elect her to the House speaker's post, making the San Francisco representative the most powerful woman in US politics.

Pelosi, a Roman Catholic mother of five, represents one of the most left-wing districts in the US and has been vilified by Republicans as a tax-happy left-winger.

Aware of that reputation, she sought to position herself as a centrist in the buildup to Thursday's swearing-in ceremonies in the 435-seat House and the 100-member US Senate. One of her mantras is that Democrats, newly empowered by US voters, are ready to reach out to Bush to solve the nation's pressing problems.

Topping the list is the war in Iraq, which along with political scandals in Washington cost Bush's Republicans their majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994.

But Democrats have centred their six-point agenda for the first 100 hours of lawmaking on domestic measures such as increasing the national minimum wage, ethics reform and boosting government help with university education loans and prescription drugs.

Bush bluntly reminded the Democratic-led Congress of his power to veto legislation and his opposition to new taxes.

"If the Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate," he said in a commentary in Wednesday's edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is to sit on the money-approving House Appropriations Committee, called Bush's suggestion that her party may seek easy political points "insulting."

The domestic focus partly reflects a lack of unity among Democrats about how quickly to leave Iraq and the fact that Bush retains broad presidential powers to set foreign and military policy.

Bush has consistently rejected Democratic calls for a timetable to disengage US forces from Iraq, though he is expected to unveil a strategy review as early as next week.

Pelosi, who calls herself a "very strong" person but shies away from "tough," has branded the US-led invasion of Iraq a mistake - a view shared by a majority of Americans. As Democratic opposition leader in the House since 2003, she helped focus the 2006 election on the war that has sent Bush's approval ratings into a slump.

First signs of conflict emerged even before lawmakers assembled under the white dome of the Capitol building to take the oath of office.

Republicans complained that despite Democratic pledges for more legislative transparency, they were kept out of the drafting of the first package of measures Pelosi wants the new House to pass.

Meanwhile, Republicans signaled they would resist the planned rise in the US minimum wage - the first in a decade - unless it is offset by tax breaks for small businesses.

And while the Democrats have a 16-seat edge in the House, they won only a minimal 51-49 majority in the Senate, limiting their room for manoeuvre.

2006 dpa German Press Agency