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09 January 2007 @ 04:16 pm
This is how it feels when Democrats win  
Bird's Eye View of Taking the Oath
by Rep Earl Blumenauer
Tue Jan 09, 2007
(x-posted from Daily Kos)

The last time my son Jon joined me as I took my oath of office was my first election to Congress. There, after a special election, I was the sole focus of attention as the oath administered by then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. I was the only new member sworn in that day and had a chance to speak on the floor of the US House of Representatives. We then retreated to one of the magnificent rooms adjacent to the floor where Newt graciously reenacted the swearing-in so that it could be photographed with family and friends. I began 11 years as a member of the minority party.

Last Thursday, as I took the oath office for the 110th Congress—this time with 434 others—things could not have been more different.

Jon was with me again, only this time seated at the back of the chamber (I snuck him in) that was jammed with hundreds of people for the historic event. Nancy Pelosi was elected the first woman Speaker, becoming the most powerful woman in the world and second in line to the presidency and signaled how different things would be in the 110th Congress.

Nancy assumes leadership at a time of great tension in our country with serious problems some self-inflicted, and most within our power to solve, or at least improve.

The economy is strong, but lacks security for many Americans, the companies they work for, and the communities in which they live. Unemployment is not high by historic terms, but economic uncertainty and inequality is greater than any time since the great Depression.

Internationally, President Bush has driven us into a cul-de-sac in Iraq with no good exit strategy. We are likely to be presented in the days ahead with a misguided policy of sending even more troops, the so-called "surge". Our stock has fallen dramatically internationally including many countries that historically have been very friendly and close to the United States. The lack of confidence in the administration's policies and confidence in the future is not just from people overseas. There's a serious crisis of confidence here at home.

Amidst all of that churn, Thursday’s events in Washington, DC were the most uplifting and positive that I've experienced as a member of Congress. Fifty-one new members, Republican and Democratic alike, came with a sense of enthusiasm and energy. Even some of my Republican friends quietly conceded that they might have more influence with the Democrats in charge with the way that we've vowed to run the House versus the DeLay machine.

It was with that sense of the excitement, interest, and new energy that we watched everything take place. There were interesting faces scattered amongst the crowded gallery. It was not just the usual family, friends and supporters who traveled across the country to watch their loved ones take their first oath of office. Looking up, one could see Richard Gere seated next to Carole King in the same row as Tony Bennett, all attesting to the "star power" of our soon-to-be Speaker.

The first order of business was establishing that we were all present. The "quorum call" took about 40 minutes, even using the electronic voting machines. This milling around was the prelude to the long roll call to select the next Speaker. It took almost an hour for 435 members, as their names were called in alphabetical order, to shout out their preference: either Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner, the Republican leader from Ohio. You could sense the tension and the excitement build. Even though I am early in the alphabet, it took about 10 minutes before my name was called. For a moment fear flashed through my mind that I would blow it. Would I blurt out the wrong name? Would I blurt out my own name? It was a single word and after the panic attack, to my relief, I was able to shout out "Pelosi". And the roll call went on. And on. And on.

On the other side of the aisle, as we say, where the Republicans historically sit, there were lots of blackberries being read, but Democratic members were clearly excited. As Jim McGovern, the representative from Massachusetts, shouted out Nancy Pelosi’s name his vote was echoed by his young daughter. At one point, Henry Waxman leaned over to me and laughingly said that if his name began with "B" he’d be eating lunch by now. I knew better. The excitement and energy built as Mr. Waxman’s vote for Nancy was ironically the 218th, the magic number needed to secure her selection as Speaker. The roll call proceeded and every one of the 233 Democrats voted for her.

The floor was awash in children, most, as the rules require, were 12 or under (not my son Jon!). It was heartening to watch them in their finery waving to parents and grandparents in the gallery, holding on to the hands of their Congressional relatives. It added a human dimension that is too often lacking in the chamber's proceedings.

Tradition has the losing candidate for Speaker make a short speech and present the gavel to the new Speaker. John Boehner, the Republican leader, made a dignified, generous, eloquent statement of cooperation and of respect for Nancy and her accomplishments. It was, as I told John afterwards, a very classy and important statement which I appreciated. Then he gave the gavel to Nancy and it was her turn. Watching her at that moment was a moving experience that I will never forget.

Over the years I have done a lot of work with Nancy Pelosi. We’ve brought her to Portland and I worked with her in San Francisco. I've heard her give countless speeches and watched her interact with the press, but I never heard her be more effective, direct, and eloquent. Her remarks showed her genuine enthusiasm for something that she had fought so hard to win for our party and for the American people. She fought for the things that we care so deeply about in terms of war and peace, the welfare of those in need, protection of the environment, and the restoration of the integrity and image of a tarnished House of Representatives. Nancy put it on the line and she won

Despite all the pageantry and the excellent speeches from Boehner and Nancy, nothing better captured the moment than when Nancy invited all the children to join her on the roster. You knew in a flash that this was going to be the picture on the front page of the next day's New York Times, which of course it was. One of her grandchildren thumping the microphone, while the kids passed the gavel about was at once humorous and poignant. It was the most forceful reminder of why we were all there, the commitment that the new Speaker had to helping all of our children, and driving that point home at every opportunity.

I never completely recovered from that experience, but I shared it later in a crowded room as Nancy posed again with dozens of members of Congress for a ceremonial reenactment of taking the oath of office. She shuttled back and forth between two sets of cameras and flags as each member was able to have her symbolically administer the oath again, joined by family and friends. My son, Jon, held the Bible as I was flanked by others who had been a part of making a difference in this last election. People like, John Russell, a long time friend and activist for good government who journeyed from Portland, Humane USA President Wayne Pacelle, Ken Cook from the Environmental Working Group, Brad Figel, who was an intern with me 25 years ago, Orson Porter a long time friend and political staffer from the Clinton White House. There were political advisers and our team members like Julia Pomeroy, my chief of staff for over 20 years, Janine Benner, our legislative director, and Willie Smith, my campaign manager and political director, all who had been part of that journey with me and helped share in the moment.

As we melted away to a small reception in our office, I stopped to vote and speak in favor of the new rules and ethics package. I wanted to add my voice to support what we Democrats were doing, treating Republicans better than they treated us and ensuring that the spirit, as well as the letter of the new rules, were honored.

Given how the Republican leadership had treated us (and their own members) over the last 12 years, it was amusing to hear their objections to our rules and ethics package. Then, as my Republican colleagues challenged the rules, I noted the satisfaction of the Democratic majority winning the first procedural vote in a dozen years. It truly was a new day.

As we wrapped up this historic day I was faced with the decision: go to the Nancy Pelosi extravaganza with Tony Bennett and Carole King or go to the floor for the first "special order" of the new Congress where members were speaking in support of efforts for energy conservation and fighting global warming. It actually wasn't a hard decision--Tony Bennett and Carole King would wait.
I can hear: Breaking Benjamin, "Sooner or Later"