- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2013

House Speaker John A. Boehner narrowly survived his re-election battle on Thursday as the 113th Congress convened at the Capitol amid calls for cooperation on the same issues that left lawmakers gridlocked over the past two years.

In the Senate, the two top leaders have at least for the time being averted a potentially disastrous fight over filibuster rules, and the inspiring return of Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, from a yearlong recovery from a stroke left the upper chamber awash in optimism.

In the House, Republicans and Democrats issued a call to focus on civility, even as they try to tackle big issues.

“If you have come here to see your name in lights or to pass off political victory as accomplishment, you have come to the wrong place. The door is right behind you,” Mr. Boehner said after winning the speaker’s gavel for the second time. “If you have come here humbled by the opportunity to serve, if you have come here to be the determined voice of the people, if you have come here to carry the standard of leadership demanded not just by our constituents but by the times, then you have come to the right place.”

He reconvened the House at noon, just minutes after the 112th Congress officially gaveled to a close, shutting the door on two years that set records for legislative futility.

Indeed, all of the issues that stymied lawmakers remain — and leaders want to add to the list. President Obama and Mr. Boehner have said they want to try to pass immigration legislation, and the recent school shooting in Connecticut has boosted gun control onto the agenda, joining debt and tax reform.

Mr. Boehner kept the speakership despite the defections of 10 House Republicans who didn’t vote for him — a reflection of simmering discontent after a rough several months for the Ohio Republican.

In the speaker’s race, Mr. Boehner received 220 votes, or three more than he needed to guarantee the top post, which leaves him second in the line of presidential succession.

Democratic defections

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also had defectors. Five of the more conservative members of her Democratic caucus voted for someone other than her.

By tradition, she handed the gavel to Mr. Boehner after he won the election, but first she made her own pitch for Democratic priorities to take hold in the 113th Congress.

She urged the chamber to tackle immigration and new rules for campaign finance, and made a push to open up voting laws.

“Surely we can be touched by the better angels of our nature,” she said.

Mr. Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, made pro forma calls to congressional leaders, who told him that they are organized and ready to do business.

All 435 members of the House are elected every two years, while the Senate is considered a continuing body and remains permanently organized.

Division of power

Congress remains divided, with Democrats holding a majority in the Senate and Republicans controlling the House — and lawmakers will immediately pick up right where the 112th Congress left off.

On Friday, both chambers are expected to pass a $9 billion bill to begin speeding aid to the victims of Superstorm Sandy.

They almost immediately begin negotiations on the next major fights, which are dealing with the exhaustion of the federal government’s borrowing ability sometime near the end of February, and another round of automatic spending cuts looming March 1.

With those fights on the back burner Thursday, the major drama was the speaker’s election.

Three dissenting Republicans voted for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Mr. Boehner’s chief lieutenant. The Virginian, who is the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, has said he would not mount a challenge, and shook his head in disgust as those fellow members called out his name during the roll call.

Two Republicans cast their votes for former Rep. Allen B. West, the Florida Republican and tea party favorite who lost his re-election bid in November.

Meanwhile, Rep. Walter B. Jones, a North Carolina Republican who was booted from his committee assignments by Mr. Boehner this year, voted for David M. Walker, the former comptroller general of the federal government, who is a prominent advocate for action to deal with the federal debt.

The Constitution does not require that the speaker be a member of Congress.

In addition to Mr. Jones, the Republicans who didn’t vote for Mr. Boehner, were Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Paul C. Broun of Georgia, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Stevan Pearce of New Mexico and Ted S. Yoho of Florida.

Rep. Steve Stockman, Texas Republican, voted “present.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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