House Speaker Nancy Pelosi retained the speaker’s gavel in a narrow vote Sunday when the new Congress kicked off with razor-thin majorities in both chambers.
With her victory, Mrs. Pelosi passed the first test in leading an ideologically divided Democratic caucus that has one of the smallest House majorities in decades.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, secured the position with 216 votes, just two more than she needed to win.
“We begin the new Congress during a time of extraordinary difficulty. Each of our communities has been drastically affected by the pandemic and economic crisis,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
She said another coronavirus-relief package will be a top priority in the coming weeks.
This is her fourth term as speaker and likely her last, as she promised her members in 2018 that she would not serve more than four years in the position.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy handed the gavel to Mrs. Pelosi with a blistering criticism for her leadership, accusing Democrats of ignoring the needs of the public for the last two years while highlighting the proxy voting system and partisan gridlock that delayed a coronavirus relief deal.
Mr. McCarthy did not lose a single Republican vote, earning 209 votes.
Across Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the senators and acknowledged the difficult partisan lines that lawmakers will navigate in the new session.
“To say the 117th Congress convenes at a challenging time would indeed be an understatement. From political division to a deadly pandemic to adversaries around the world, the hurdles before us are many and they are serious,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Control of the upper chamber for the rest of the session is still up in the air. Georgia’s two runoff elections on Tuesday will determine which party has the majority in the Senate. The runoffs pit Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue against their Democratic challengers — respectively, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
Currently, the GOP controls the chamber with a bare 51-member majority to the Democrats’ 48 members.
Ms. Loeffler is still in her seat while Mr. Perdue’s term expired. Democrats need to win both races to claim the majority with a 50-50 split chamber and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
In the vote for speaker, some of the more moderate Democrats defected from Mrs. Pelosi. But she managed to lock down support from her party’s far-left wing.
Newly elected Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri and Jamaal Bowman of New York, who were noncommittal last week about supporting Mrs. Pelosi, ended up casting their ballots for her.
“You know we are just … [an] extremely slim amount of votes away from risking the speakership to the Republican Party and this is — it’s bigger than any one of us,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat.
Two Democrats — Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania — voted against Mrs. Pelosi, nominating others in her stead.
Meanwhile, three Democrats voted “present,” effectively removing themselves from the count: Reps. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.