Nancy Pelosi seized the gavel as the House welcomed more women than ever
before in the 116th Congress.
As of January 3, 102 women serve in the House, an all-time high, including
36 newly elected members and a record 43 women of color.
While Republican women marked some firsts this past election season – like
Marsha Blackburn becoming the first female Tennessee Senator – the vast
majority of these new lawmakers are Democrats.
Among them are the first Muslim congresswomen – Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar – and the first Native American women to serve – New Mexico’s Debra Haaland and Kansas’ Sharice Davids.
President Trump opened the Oval Office meeting calling it a “great honor” to have Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi present, in their firstmeeting since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in theNovember mid-term elections.
The meeting soon turned contentious as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer argued that the Republican-controlled Congress could pass legislation before funding for some agencies was set to expire on December 21.
President Trump contended that it could only pass if it met his demands for more funding for his proposed borderwall along the US southern border.
He said: “If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it’s through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shutdown the government.
“And I am proud to shut down the government for bordersecurity. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”
Veteran congressman John Conyers says he is stepping aside as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee while harassment allegations are investigated.
The Michigan Democrat again denied the accusations, but said he was stepping down to clear his name.
A staff member alleges she was fired for refusing to “succumb to advances” from John Conyers.
A prominent civil rights leader, John Conyers first joined Congress in 1965.
The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into allegations of harassment and age discrimination involving staff.
On November 26, John Conyers, now 88, tweeted that he would like to remain as ranking member on the judiciary committee, but that he could not “in good conscience” allow the charges to “undermine” House colleagues.
Following talks over dinner at the White House, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”
Democrats have repeatedly said that they will block any legislation that contains funding for the border wall – a key campaign pledge of President Trump’s.
A White House statement was more muted, simply saying that there had been a “constructive working dinner” where tax reform, border security and DACA had been discussed.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders later disputed the Democrats’ account.
She tweeted: “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.”
Chuck Schumer’s aide replied: “The President made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement.”
Republican support would be needed in any immigration legislation, as they have a majority in both the House and the Senate.
Republicans in the House have voted to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the body that investigates claims of misconduct against members of Congress.
Under the change, the independent OCE would come under the control of the House Ethics Committee.
Republican leaders in the House had opposed the change. The newly elected Congress meets later and the full House will vote on the proposed new rules.
However, Democrats reacted angrily to the vote.
The proposals, tabled in an amendment to House rules by Congressman Bob Goodlatte, would weaken the OCE’s oversight of matters such as conflicts of interests and financial impropriety.
If the new rules package is voted in – as is likely as the Republicans have a clear majority – the OCE would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review.
Under the proposals the new body would no longer be able to receive anonymous tip-offs, nor have a spokesperson, and would be under the supervision of the House Ethics Committee. Accusations against lawmakers would not be made public, as they are currently.
Any referral to law enforcement agencies would have to be approved by members of the committee.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, said the amendment to the rules would effectively destroy the OCE.
She said in a statement: “Republicans claim they want to <<drain the swamp>>, but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP [Republican Party] has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions.
“Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
During his election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics, claiming the federal government was corrupt and dysfunctional. He has not commented on the proposals for the ethics body.
While House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy were reportedly opposed to the amendment, Rep. Bob Goodlatte – chair of a House committee – introduced it anyway.
Rank and file members voted to support it in a closed session of the House Republican Conference.
There was no advance notice of the move, which came late on a federal public holiday.
The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008 after a series of embarrassing scandals, including one involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff who was jailed for conspiracy and fraud.
Some felt that the House Ethics Committee had previously been held back from investigating wrongdoing by fellow members of the House of Representatives.
Nancy Pelosi – then leader of a Democrat-controlled House – spearheaded the efforts to reform oversight of Congress and shed light on the often murky world of Washington lobbying after the Abramoff scandal.
After their success in November’s elections, Republicans will control both houses in the new session of the US Congress.
Once Donald Trump is inaugurated on January 20, the GOP will control both Congress and the presidency for the first time since 2007.
According to the US constitution, “each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings”, so at the start of each new Congress, the House of Representatives has to approve its own rules and regulations.
President Barack Obama’s plans for a military strike on Syria have won backing from key US political figures.
Barack Obama said a “limited” strike was needed to degrade President Bashar al-Assad’s capabilities in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack.
Key Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor both signaled their support for military action. Congress is expected to vote next week.
The UN earlier confirmed that more than two million Syrians were now refugees.
More than 100,000 people are thought to have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden met House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen and ranking members from the national security committees in Washington on Tuesday.
John Boehner signaled his support for Barack Obama’s call for action, saying that only the US had the capacity to stop President Bashar al-Assad. John Boehner urged his colleagues in Congress to follow suit.
Eric Cantor, the House of Representatives majority leader, said he also backed Barack Obama.
President Barack Obama’s plans for a military strike on Syria have won backing from key US political figures
The Virginia Republican said: “Assad’s Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism, is the epitome of a rogue state, and it has long posed a direct threat to American interests and to our partners.”
Nancy Pelosi said she did not believe Congress would reject a resolution calling for force.
Barack Obama said that Bashar al-Assad had to be held accountable for the chemical attack and that he was confident Congress would back him.
He said he was proposing military action that would degrade Bashar al-Assad’s capacity to use chemical weapons “now and in the future”.
“What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional,” the president said.
“At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and the top US military officer, Gen Martin Dempsey, are appearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
John Kerry told the panel that US allies such as Israel and Jordan were “one stiff breeze” away from potentially being hurt by any fresh chemical weapons attacks, and that US inaction would only embolden the Syrian president.
“This is not the time for armchair isolationism,” John Kerry said.
“This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter. Neither our country nor out conscience can afford the cost of silence.
“We have spoken up against unspeakable horror many times in the past. Now we must stand up and act.”
But John Kerry said again that there would be no American boots on the ground in Syria and that Barack Obama was “not asking America to go to war”.
Chuck Hagel said that “the word of the United States must mean something” and echoed John Kerry when adding: “A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitments, including the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
There will also be a classified briefing for all members of Congress.
Barack Obama will head to Sweden late on Tuesday for a G20 meeting sure to be dominated by Syria.
France has strongly backed the US plan for military action.
President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday: “When a chemical massacre takes place, when the world is informed of it, when the evidence is delivered, when the guilty parties are known, then there must be an answer.”
Francois Hollande called for Europe to unite on the issue, but said he would wait for the Congress vote.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has arrived in New York with his family to begin a new life in the United States.
The blind human rights lawyer caused a diplomatic crisis when he escaped house arrest to arrive at the US embassy in Beijing last month.
Speaking outside New York University, where he has been offered a fellowship, Chen Guangcheng said China had dealt with the situation with “restraint and calm”.
But he raised concerns about ongoing reprisals against his family.
“Acts of retribution in Shandong have not been abated and my rights to practice law have been curbed – we hope to see a thorough investigation into this,” he said, referring to the province where he was kept under house arrest.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has arrived in New York with his family to begin a new life in the United States
The activist thanked US officials and his supporters for their help and said he had come to the United States for “recuperation in body and spirit”.
Chen Guangcheng and his family were taken from a Beijing hospital, where he was being treated for a foot injury, to the capital’s airport on Saturday.
After weeks of uncertainty, the activist, his wife Yuan Weijing and their two children, aged eight and six, were handed passports and allowed to fly to Newark, New Jersey, where they arrived soon after 18:00 on Saturday.
Chen Guangcheng spent six days in the US embassy in Beijing last month after escaping house arrest in north-east China, sparking a diplomatic spat between the US and China.
Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi described his arrival in the US as “a milestone in the cause for human rights in China”.
“The courage of Chen Guangcheng to risk his life and livelihood to advocate for disadvantaged people in China is an inspiration to freedom-seeking people around the world,” Nancy Pelosi said.
The Congressional Executive Commission on China, set up to monitor human rights there in 2001, said it remained “deeply concerned that Mr. Chen’s supporters and family members who remain in China face the real threat of retaliation from Chinese officials”.