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Boehner Takes the Gavel

Boehner Takes the Gavel


The Speaker of the House for the 111th Congress, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, handed over the gavel to the Speaker of the House for the 112th Congress, Rep. John Boehner, Wednesday, officially restoring House control to the Republican Party and marking the end of Democrats' historic majorities in the chamber.

Pelosi said the 111th Congress had been bookended by advancing the "American cause of equality for all" with legislation aimed at equalizing wages for women in the workforce and that ended the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

"From the first days of Congress with the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to the last days with the repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," she noted.

Pelosi also ended her reign by reflecting on promises she had made four years earlier when she became the first female to hold the top spot in the House.

"When I was first elected Speaker, I called the House to order on behalf of America's children. And now as I prepare to hand the gavel over to Speaker Boehner, I know one thing above all else," said Pelosi, "we have stood for those children and for their families--for their health, their education, the safety of the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat."

For his part, Boehner promised a more contemplative if less speedy House of Representatives, which has historically been the chamber more prone to boiling over with emotion and to swinging more radically to either side of the ideological spectrum.

"We will dispense with the conventional wisdom that bigger bills are always better; that fast legislating is good legislating; that allowing additional amendments and open debate makes the legislative process 'less efficient' than our forefathers intended," Boehner said. "These misconceptions have been the basis for the rituals of modern Washington. The American people have not been well served by them."

The two speeches found areas of common ground with an emphasis on improving the economy and reducing the deficit, though the two parties may differ on the means.

"Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy," Boehner said, while Pelosi promised to use job creation and deficit spending as the Democrats' measure of GOP policies.

"Our most important job is to fight for American jobs," she said. "And so Democrats will judge what comes before Congress by whether it creates jobs, strengthens our middle class, and reduces the deficit - not burdening future generations with debt."

Pro-LGBT conservative groups welcomed the change of leadership.

"The 2010 election was an historic victory for the GOP, and Log Cabin Republicans is committed to moving forward as part of a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party focused on the issues that unite us as Americans," said Christian Berle, LCR deputy executive director. Berle said he looked forward to working with long-time allies like Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Judy Biggert, along with new supporters including Representatives Richard Hanna and Nan Hayworth.

But liberal groups were less optimistic about the new landscape.

"Unfortunately the new Congress means we'll have to be in a more defensive posture than we have been," said Michael Cole, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.

One pro-LGBT source who spoke on the condition of anonymity anticipated there could be areas for both advancement and regression.

The source said inroads might be possible through larger legislative vehicles in areas such as safe schools protections for LGBT kids in education reauthorization and tax equity provisions for domestic partners in a tax overhaul.

But the source was also concerned that the GOP might try to cut funding for HIV/AIDS programs or hate crimes enforcement through the appropriations process.

"Don't expect a lot of really anti-gay stuff at first," said the source. "They'll probably hold their fire until closer to the 2012 reelect."

But LCR's Berle expected nothing so pernicious.

"Speaker Boehner and the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate have underscored numerous times that their number one priority is addressing job creation, tax reform and reducing the deficit. Log Cabin Republicans has long been committed to working with Republican leaders on numerous issues including increased funding for HIV/AIDS, notably allied with conservative Senators Richard Burr, Tom Coburn, and Mike Enzi," he said.

Berle added that interfering with the District of Columbia's marriage equality law would violate core conservative principles.

"As conservatives firmly committed to the federalist principals of our Constitution, we strongly believe that Congress will not engage in any activities that would infringe upon the self-governance of the District of Columbia or any state, as our Founding Fathers articulated that issues such as marriage should be handled by state and local governments," he said.

Boehner signaled a similar sentiment in his speech, saying the American people want "a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public that it serves."

But Democratic staffers were bracing for unpredictability on LGBT issues as well as other concerns.

"It's entirely unclear how they will approach LGBT issues," said one senior Democratic House aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They seemed to be sending a message that they were trying to be a big tent party, but as we've seen with many of the things they've promised in the election - they cannot control their Tea Party Members."

The aide pointed to what he viewed as GOP campaign promises already broken.

The GOP leadership had promised 72 hours for Congressional Members to read and review legislation, for instance, but the aide said alterations to the Rules package that was presented on the House floor Wednesday were made Tuesday evening night - breaking what he called "a huge promise" they made.

The House of Representatives wasn't the only place where change is in the air. News surfaced Wednesday morning that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs would be leaving the White House. The White House is already in the throes of selecting a new chief of staff - a post being held on an interim basis by Pete Rouse - and top aides David Axelrod and Jim Messina are expected to make an exit in order to work on Obama's reelection campaign. Additionally, Tina Chen, who has served as director of the Office of Public Engagement and has been a player in any number of LGBT meetings at the White House, will now be moving to the Office of the First Lady.

President Barack Obama said Gibbs had been an "effective advocate from the podium" for the administration and had served as one of his "closest advisers" for the last six years.

"I think it's natural for him to want to step back, reflect and retool," Obama said in a statement. "That brings up some challenges and opportunities for the White House - but it doesn't change the important role that Robert will continue to play on our team."

During Wednesday's briefing Gibbs added that he thought having new blood and new ideas come in from outside the White House could benefit the administration.

"I think having new voices and having fresh voices - some of those voices that are coming back from having taken a couple of years off - are an important part of this process," Gibbs said. "I think it will serve the president well."
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