WASHINGTON — Claiming power beneath the Capitol dome, resurgent Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives on Wednesday as the 112th Congress convened in an era of economic uncertainty. Dozens of tea party-backed lawmakers took office in both houses, eager to cut spending and reduce government's reach.
Both the House and the Senate convened at the constitutionally mandated hour of noon for a day of pageantry and bipartisan flourishes that contrasted the fierceness of the midterm elections.
With 10 of his 11 siblings looking on, John Boehner, R-Ohio, 61, became the 53rd speaker of the House, succeeding Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California. He will lead a House with a 242-to-193 GOP majority, the biggest Republican edge in 62 years.
Pelosi, who had been the first woman speaker of the House, relinquished the gavel only after reciting the legislative accomplishments under the Democratic Congress, including key provisions of health care law.
She pledged that when Republicans "come forward with solutions that address these American challenges, you will find in us a willing partner."
Boehner stood behind her at the rostrum, and at 2:05 p.m., she turned to him. "God Bless You, Speaker Boehner," Pelosi said, as she handed him the gavel.
Boehner, who had just wiped tears from his eyes, promised a more civil, more collegial House.
"We will not always get it right," Boehner said in his acceptance speech. "And we will not always agree on what is right. There's a great deal of scar tissue that has built up on both sides of the aisle. We cannot ignore that, nor should we. My belief has always been, we can disagree without being disagreeable."
After four years of wielding power, Pelosi sat with a smile frozen on her face and a granddaughter, Madeleine, on her lap during a lengthy roll call of lawmakers that sealed Boehner's election as speaker. Republicans had turned her into a political target during the campaign, and her decision to return as minority leader caused grumbling among Democrats that was evident when 19 of them declined to support her for speaker. A 20th, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, pointedly skipped the day's events.
In the Senate, where Democrats retain control, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada selected retired Republican Sen. Paul Laxalt to accompany him when he took the oath for a new term after a difficult re-election campaign.
Senate Republicans gained six seats in last fall's elections, and their leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said the voters had made it clear they "want lawmakers to cut Washington, tackle the debt, rein in government and to help create the right conditions for private sector growth."
Wednesday's good feeling is likely to be fleeting.
Republicans have pledged to challenge President Barack Obama. The first salvo is expected next week, a bill to repeal the sweeping health care law that Democrats pushed to passage 10 months ago.
In the halls and on the Internet, the tension ran along partisan lines. The Democrats' prime target Wednesday was the Republicans' first major order of business, new rules requiring new mandatory spending to be offset by other spending cuts — but not by tax increases.
The changes are designed to be the opening shot in the GOP's assault on the federal deficit, expected to be well above $1 trillion this fiscal year.
Information from the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.