By Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper - 01/06/11 01:55 AM EST
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was sworn in Wednesday as the 53rd Speaker of the House and immediately pledged to run a humble majority aiming “to give government back to the people.”
The Ohio Republican, 61 and in his 11th term, ushered in a Republican House promising to serve as a counterweight to President Obama and the Democratic Senate after a sweeping victory in the midterm election.
“No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road,” Boehner said. “The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.”
Sporting a dark suit and baby-blue silk tie, Boehner wiped tears from his eyes as he greeted his colleagues and accepted the gavel from ousted Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“It’s still just me,” he said in response to a loud standing ovation from a House chamber packed with lawmakers, staff, reporters and families.
Boehner was officially elected Speaker on a traditional party-line vote, drawing unanimous support from his 241 fellow Republicans. The roll call vote in effect ratified a midterm election that saw Republicans picked up 63 seats.
The famously emotional Boehner has often drawn on his hardscrabble upbringing in a large family in Ohio, and he projected humility throughout his speech as 10 of his 11 brothers and sisters, along with his wife and daughters, watched from above the House chamber.
Several members of the Boehner clan had tissues at the ready to dab away tears during the nearly two-hour-long ceremony.
“The American people have humbled us,” he said. “They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them,” Boehner said.
“That includes this gavel,” he added, “which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not about us.”
The new Speaker promised to run a more open House, saying that more amendments and extensive debate would be allowed on the floor.
“We will dispense with the conventional wisdom that bigger bills are always better; that fast legislating is good legislating; that allowing additional amendments and open debate makes the legislative process ‘less efficient’ than our forefathers intended,” Boehner said.
Boehner replaces Pelosi four years after she was elected as the first female Speaker, and his wife and daughters joined the House in a standing ovation recognizing Pelosi’s achievement.
While the tone of the opening day was collegial, both Boehner and Pelosi used their speeches to trumpet the achievements and principles of their respective parties. Boehner said Republicans “would honor our Pledge to America, built through a process of listening to the people, and we will stand firm on the constitutional principles that built our party, and built a nation.”
In her lengthy introduction of Boehner as the new Speaker, Pelosi offered a vigorous defense of the Democratic accomplishments under her watch but also transitioned to a gracious welcome.
“Speaker Boehner is a leader who has earned the confidence of his conference and the respect of his colleagues in the House,” she said.
The 112th Congress officially convened at noon. Within minutes of entering the chamber, at 12:20 p.m., Boehner was spotted by photographers crying as he exchanged greetings with Republican lawmakers.
The festive opening ceremony offered a brief break from the partisan warfare, as both Boehner and Pelosi earned rare ovations from both sides of the aisle.
As Boehner was being nominated for Speaker, Pelosi’s closest confidant, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), leapt to applaud him. As chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee in 2000, Boehner worked closely with Miller, then ranking member of that committee, to pass the landmark No Child Left Behind legislation.
Other dignitaries crowded the House floor for a glimpse of Boehner’s big day. Former House GOP Leader Bob Michel (Ill.), former GOP congressman-turned-MSNBC-host Joe Scarborough and former Vice President Dan Quayle (R) were shaking hands on the floor.
The former vice president sat in the front row next to his son, freshman Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), who took his oath of office on Wednesday as well.
After the ceremony was over, lawmakers returned to the partisan warfare likely to characterize the weeks and months ahead through a series of party-line votes related to the Republicans’ package of proposed rules for the House.
The House approved the GOP rules package over objections from Democrats that it eliminated certain voting rights for those elected to serve as delegates for the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.
Democrats also offered a motion to recommit the GOP rules package that would have forced the GOP to add language requiring members to reveal whether they will participate under the new healthcare law. The motion failed on another party-line vote.
This article was updated from an earlier version