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Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote

House Democrats rallied Sunday to elect Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Retired Army general: 'We can't have demonstrators showing up at a state Capitol with damn long guns' Graham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump 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 DuckworthFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Biden taps Atlanta mayor for senior DNC role The best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot MORE (D-Ill.), a military veteran, while Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) opted for House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesUS Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots Lawmakers mount pressure on Trump to leave office Sunday shows - Capitol siege, Trump future dominate MORE (D-N.Y.). Three other Democrats — Reps. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE (Mich.), Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillBelfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington Democrats point fingers on whether Capitol rioters had inside help Pelosi suggests criminal charges for any lawmaker who helped with Capitol riot MORE (N.J.) and Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis Spanberger'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Chamber of Commerce slams GOP effort to challenge Biden's win Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote 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 CooperFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE (Tenn.), Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderWhy are millions still flowing into the presidential inauguration? Democrats poised to impeach Trump again Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote MORE (Ore.), Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote Pelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE (Wis.), Jason CrowJason CrowThousands of troops dig in for inauguration Sixth House Republican backs Trump impeachment Democrat: GOP colleagues say they're 'afraid for their lives' if they vote to impeach Trump MORE (Colo.) and Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceTrust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots Trump's Georgia call triggers debate on criminal penalties Georgia district attorney says she will 'enforce the law without fear or favor' following Trump call 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 BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE's Electoral College victory in the face of opposition from conservative allies of President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT 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 MooreMcMorris Rodgers floats vacating Speaker's chair over Democrat's in-person vote after COVID diagnosis House approves rules package for new Congress Top House Appropriations Republican tests COVID-19 positive 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 McCarthyHouse GOP lawmaker: Trump 'put all of our lives at risk' Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Democrats seize on GOP donor fallout 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 RaskinDemocratic lawmaker says 'assassination party' hunted for Pelosi during riot Sunday shows preview: Washington prepares for an inauguration and impeachment; coronavirus surges across the US House impeaches Trump for second time — with some GOP support MORE (D-Md.), whose 25-year-old son died last week; and Mark DeSaulnierMark James DeSaulnierPelosi wins Speakership for fourth time in dramatic vote Dozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House Rep. DeSaulnier leaves ICU after 3 weeks to continue treatment for pneumonia 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.