The new speaker of the House, John Boehner, promised a new era of transparency in lawmaking on Wednesday, but he also pledged to aggressively push forward the conservative agenda that swept his party into power.
A roll-call vote of the chamber’s 435 members ended the way the results of November’s election determined that it would: with more votes for Mr. Boehner than for the Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, making him speaker.
In remarks after taking the gavel from Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Boehner described himself as humbled, and said that the changes he envisions would restore trust to “the people’s House.”
“We will honor our Pledge to America, built through a process of listening to the people, and we will stand firm on our Constitutional principles that built our party, and built a great nation,” said Mr. Boehner, now second in line of succession to the presidency. “We will do these things, however, in a manner that restores and respects the time-honored right of the minority to an honest debate — a fair and open process.”
In the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, offered an olive branch to Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, saying: “Senator Reid and I get along just fine. I expect it’ll stay that way, and I look forward to working together again.”
But he also warned Democratic senators against changing the chamber’s rules to make it harder to mount a filibuster.
“This is precisely the kind of approach a supermajority standard is meant to prevent,” he said. “It exists to preserve the Senate’s role as the one place where the voices of all the people will, in the end, be heard.”
Despite a general atmosphere of bipartisanship on the opening day of the 112th Congress, Mr. Boehner made no effort in his remarks to disguise his disgust with the way Ms. Pelosi and her Democratic majority ran the House over the past four years.
He said the rules of the House under Ms. Pelosi and previous speakers were “misconceptions” that served as the “basis for the rituals of modern Washington” — and he pledged to change them.
“There were no open rules in the House in the last Congress. In this one, there will be many,” Mr. Boehner said. “With this restored openness, however, comes a restored responsibility. You will not have the right to willfully disrupt the proceedings of the people’s House. But you will always have the right to a robust debate in open process that allows you to represent your constituents, to make your case, offer alternatives and be heard.”
Mr. Boehner referred to the complaints of his fellow Republicans that the Democrats used omnibus legislation and restricted amendments as a way of moving President Obama’s legislative agenda through the House over the wishes of the minority. Mr. Boehner said in his remarks that the House’s new rules would fix those problems — a claim that Democratic lawmakers have already challenged.
“The American people have not been well served by them,” Mr. Boehner said. “Today, mindful of the lessons of the past, we open a new chapter.”
Mr. Boehner described the economic challenges facing the country as paramount.
“Nearly 1 in 10 of our neighbors are looking for work,” he said. “Health care costs are still rising for families and small businesses. Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy.”
But he offered no specifics in the speech about how the new Republican majority intended to confront those issues. Aides have said that Mr. Boehner and his party intended to move quickly in the next three weeks to repeal the president’s health care bill and cut spending.
The new speaker acknowledged in his remarks what he called the “scar tissue” that has formed in the relationship between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. He conceded that there will be many conflicts in the days ahead.
“We may have different — sometimes, very different — ideas for how to go about achieving the common good.” he said. “It is why we serve.”
Before receiving the gavel and making his speech, Mr. Boehner made his way down the aisle in the chamber along with Ms. Pelosi. In her last act as speaker, Ms. Pelosi introduced Mr. Boehner, calling him a “proud son of Ohio,” and wished him well.
Standing beside her, Mr. Boehner appeared to choke up several times, and he dabbed at his eyes with a tissue as Ms. Pelosi introduced his family in the gallery.