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Leaders of the new Congress try to sell bipartisanship

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Leaders of the newborn 115th Congress told their colleagues today that the United States is in the middle of another peaceful transition of power, and that love of country will bind them together in the coming days.

The Senate swore in 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents. It brought Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., back as Senate majority leader. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. succeeded Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., as the Senate minority leader.

The House swore in 241 Republicans and 194 Democrats. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is returning as House speaker, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is returning as the House minority leader.

Related: GOP readies swift Obamacare repeal with no replacement in place

Many House members took advantage of swearing-in ceremony rules that let them bring young children and grandchildren onto the House floor. One young attendee brought a baby doll.

Pelosi, who spoke before Ryan, in proceedings streamed live on the web, talked about her friendship with Ryan, and about House Democrats’ interest in working with Republicans to find areas of common ground. She held up the House gavel.

“This is the people’s House,” Pelosi said. “This is the people’s gavel. In the people’s name, it is my privilege to hand the gavel to the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan talked about a sense of potential. (Photo: Ryan's office)

House Speaker Paul Ryan talked about a sense of potential. (Photo: Ryan’s office)

‘Sturdy thread’

Ryan said the recent election campaign season “was a little intense.”

“When you’re in the heat of the kind of campaign we had, you start to wonder, ‘Will the tempers ever cool?’” Ryan said.

Today, with all of the beaming children, proud spouses and proud parents in the House, “there’s no sense of foreboding,” Ryan said. “There’s only a sense of potential.”

“The hue and cry of campaigns, the rancor of the dissension… In the end, they all dissolve in the silent and peaceful transfer of power,” Ryan said. “For all of our arguments and all of our differences, we are all united by a deep, abiding love of our country. It is this slender but sturdy thread that holds us together. We always seem to forget this, but it has never failed us.”

Pelosi said Democrats will hold their ground against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act or weaken Medicare. But she added that Democrats want to work with Republicans on many of the issues President-elect Donald Trump and other Republicans have talked about, such as helping Americans balance work and family life.

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Ryan said Republican House members’ share Democrats’ interest in providing help for the unemployed and care for the sick.

Ryan said he wants to make the House work better, and pass more bills through the conventional legislative process.

He cited House work on the new 21st Century Cures Act, a bill that includes a provision that lets small employers use qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangements to reimburse employees for individual major medical insurance premiums, as an example of lawmakers’ ability to work together to pass bills.

In addition to the QSEHRA provision, the act includes billions of dollars in funding for medical research, anti-opioid abuse provisions, and mental health benefits parity provisions.

“These are all things that we should be very proud of,” Ryan said.

Ryan said Republicans have to respect members of the minority party and work with them. The guiding philosophy will be “agreement whenever possible, but, at all times, respect,” Ryan said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate has hard work ahead of it. (Photo: McConnell's office)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate has hard work ahead of it. (Photo: McConnell’s office)


In the Senate, McConnell avoided talk about legislative specifics, but he warned colleagues, “The Senate has a lot of work ahead.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is returning as the Senate majority whip, seemed to hint at an eagerness to find ways to work with Democrats on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

In the Senate, “neither party gets everything they want,” Cornyn said. ”It just wasn’t designed that way.”

Cornyn said the fact that the voters put Republicans in charge of the House, the Senate and the White House is a sign that the American people want change.

But he said members on both sides of the aisle should have the humility to recognize that the election results were not “a ringing affirmation of either political party.”

Cornyn, who calls the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare,” said the policy is an example of what can go wrong if members of one party pass legislation without working with the other party.

Medicare and Social Security are more sustainable than Obamacare partly because they have had bipartisan support, Cornyn said. 


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