Updated on January 3 at 10:20 p.m. ET
This was not how Democrats expected, much less hoped, to begin their new House majority.
After the blue wave crested, ever so slowly, in November, the start of the 116th Congress on Thursday loomed as a moment of potential drama, a constitutionally mandated deadline for the party to decide whether to make a generational change in leadership. In the weeks after the election, Nancy Pelosi scrambled to put down an intraparty rebellion that threatened to turn her elevation to a second stint as speaker into a nail-biting vote and a showcase of Democratic division. She succeeded in impressive fashion, securing support vote by vote and demonstrating the formidable skills that have kept her atop the Democratic caucus for 16 years.
Once that leadership challenge fizzled, a new, more triumphant vision for the opening of Congress emerged: Pelosi would become the first person in more than 60 years to reclaim the speaker’s gavel, and then Democrats would promptly set about passing bills to deliver on their campaign promises and place their first checks on President Donald Trump’s power. Their initial volleys would include legislation to enact so-called democracy reforms to address campaign-finance loopholes, and measures to expand voting rights and limit gerrymandering. Bills to beef up protections for people with preexisting conditions in the Affordable Care Act and tackle high prescription-drug prices would follow soon after. Yes, these proposals would be dead-on-arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, but the goal was to send an immediate message to their constituents and reset a legislative debate that had swung far to the right for the past two years.