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Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote

House Democrats rallied Sunday to elect Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-Calif.) as Speaker in the 117th Congress, overcoming opposition from a handful of restive moderates urging new leadership to grant Pelosi her fourth term at the top of the chamber. 

The 216-209 vote was more dramatic than anyone would have guessed just two months ago, when Democrats went into the elections predicting big gains to pad their House majority in 2021. Instead, they lost at least 13 seats, trimming their numbers to a mere 222 seats — the smallest House majority in decades — and complicating Pelosi's effort to keep the Speaker's gavel for another two-year term.

She has vowed it will be her last.

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A total of five Democrats declined to support Pelosi on the chamber floor, urging a changing of the guard after 18 years under Pelosi's reign — a sharp decline from the 15 defections she encountered in 2019. 

Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) voted for Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthIf you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Su's track record make her an excellent pick for Labor Department post Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill MORE (D-Ill.), a military veteran, while Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) opted for House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesOn The Money: Breaking down Biden's .8T American Families Plan | Powell voices confidence in Fed's handle on inflation | Wall Street basks in 'Biden boom' Democratic leaders push to boost congressional staff pay Troy Carter wins race to fill Cedric Richmond's Louisiana House seat MORE (D-N.Y.). Three other Democrats — Reps. Elissa SlotkinElissa Slotkin House Republicans pressuring Democrats to return donations from Ocasio-Cortez Democrats move smaller immigration bills while eyeing broad overhaul On The Money: Biden celebrates relief bill with Democratic leaders | Democrats debate fast-track for infrastructure package MORE (Mich.), Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillGOP lawmakers request briefing on Democrats' claims of 'suspicious' Capitol tours before Jan. 6 Lawmakers question NCAA over 'disparate treatment' at women's championships NJ lawmakers ask Gannett to stop 'union-busting' efforts at 3 state newspapers MORE (N.J.) and Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerFive takeaways on the House's return to budget earmarks Lawmakers say companies need to play key role in sustainability On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to lowest level since lockdowns | Retail sales surge in March | Dow, S&P hit new records MORE (Va.) — voted “present,” allowing them to log their disapproval with the longtime leader while simultaneously lowering her threshold for victory. 

"I've been pretty vocal about the need for more Midwestern leaders, people who represent areas like where I'm from," Slotkin said shortly before the vote. "It's a commitment that I made in March of 2018 before I was elected."

Yet the detractors fell short of blocking Pelosi, who ran unopposed, and there was a clear sense that the process was orchestrated in such a way to allow a certain number of moderate Democrats in tough districts to register their opposition to the liberal leader for messaging purposes back home while keeping their ranks small enough to ensure she kept the gavel.

Paving her path, several Democrats who had opposed Pelosi in 2019 had a change of heart this year and backed her, including Reps. Jim CooperJim CooperLiberal advocacy group stirs debate, discomfort with primary challenges Progressive group backing primary challenger to Tennessee Democrat GOP leader to try to force Swalwell off panel MORE (Tenn.), Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderBlue Dogs push House leadership to allow more member input Democratic majority shrinks, but finds unity Biden on precipice of first big win MORE (Ore.), Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindHouse Democrats hit Republicans on mobile billboard at GOP retreat House Republicans pressuring Democrats to return donations from Ocasio-Cortez Race debate grips Congress MORE (Wis.), Jason CrowJason CrowCongress demands answers on Afghanistan withdrawal Tensions rise as Democrats face Senate bottleneck on agenda Overnight Energy: Biden reportedly will pledge to halve US emissions by 2030 | Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce Green New Deal resolution MORE (Colo.) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceHouse GOP campaign arm adds to target list Lawmakers brace for bitter fight over Biden tax plan NY House Democrats demand repeal of SALT cap MORE (N.Y.). 

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Heading into the vote, there were also open questions surrounding the intentions of several incoming progressive lawmakers — including Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) — who had knocked off Democratic incumbents in the primaries and had declined to forecast how they'd vote in the Speaker's race.

In the end, however, those newcomers declined to go after Pelosi, citing a need for Democrats to unite heading into the new Congress. 

"Our country needs stability right now," Bowman said coming off of the chamber floor after the vote. "It's really important for the Democratic Party to come together and figure out not just how to govern for the 117th but going forward for the country."

The timing of the vote might also have played to Pelosi's advantage. It came just two days before a pair of special Senate elections in Georgia will decide which party controls the upper chamber next year and three days before Congress will vote to affirm Joe BidenJoe BidenCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Manchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE's Electoral College victory in the face of opposition from conservative allies of President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE who are fighting to overturn the election results in several battleground states.

Against that backdrop, Pelosi’s allies had warned her critics against creating a dramatic scene on the chamber floor, which would have highlighted the party’s divisions just as it is trying to unite behind Biden and its candidates in Georgia. 

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Opening day of a new Congress is usually filled with pomp and celebration, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, things were much more subdued in the Capitol. There were not as many children and grandchildren wandering around the complex, and lawmakers sported masks, opted for elbow bumps over handshakes and hugs, and voted in multiple shifts to avoid overcrowding on the House floor.  

COVID-19 hung over the Speaker’s vote as well, as Pelosi and her allies fretted about the possibility that a new, last-minute outbreak could cause a flurry of Democratic absences and jeopardize her quest to secure the gavel. In fact, the margins were so tight that some Democrats who had recently tested positive for COVID-19 traveled to Washington anyway to cast their vote for Pelosi.    

Some of the day’s drama focused on Rep. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreShining a light on COINTELPRO's dangerous legacy Lawmakers urge IRS to boost outreach about tax credits for low-income Americans McMorris Rodgers floats vacating Speaker's chair over Democrat's in-person vote after COVID diagnosis MORE (D-Wis.), who on Dec. 28 announced that she had received a positive test. Despite that diagnosis, Moore flew to Washington and cast her vote for Pelosi on the House floor, prompting howls from Republicans who claimed that Democrats were more concerned about securing the Speaker’s gavel for Pelosi than the health and safety of lawmakers and staff.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyTop female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' Kinzinger plotted to oust McCarthy after Jan. 6 attack Romney: Removing Cheney from House leadership will cost GOP election votes MORE (R-Calif.) called that decision flat-out “wrong.”

“I couldn't imagine that [Pelosi] would bring somebody in here that could cause people problems,” McCarthy told The Hill. 

But Moore pushed back on the GOP criticism, saying that she had been cleared by the Capitol's attending physician, Brian Monahan, and had quarantined for two weeks — well beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. It’s unclear why Moore had waited until seven days ago to publicly report her positive COVID-19 test. 

On Sunday, she also told reporters she had not had a negative COVID-19 test before coming to the Capitol, where there have been waves of outbreaks among lawmakers, police officers and reporters in recent months. 

Still, Pelosi needed virtually every one of her 216 votes, relying on the participation of several members who were ailing or suffering personal tragedies, including Moore; Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinSix House Democrats ask Garland to review case of lawyer placed under house arrest over Chevron suit Democrats seek to keep spotlight on Capitol siege Congress and the administration cannot play games with the Congressional Review Act MORE (D-Md.), whose 25-year-old son died last week; and Mark DeSaulnierMark James DeSaulnierOvernight Health Care: CDC says three feet of distance safe in schools | Surging COVID-19 cases in Europe, Brazil signal warning for US | Biden jabs Trump in first visit to CDC Democrats unveil bill to prevent members of the Sackler family from evading lawsuits through bankruptcy Bipartisan group of lawmakers backs bill 'to save local news' MORE (D-Calif.), who had been hospitalized in critical condition earlier in the year.

DeSaulnier's vote for Pelosi was his first back in Washington since the start of the year, and Democrats on the chamber floor burst into applause when he voiced her name.

Juliegrace Brufke and Cristina Marcos contributed.