117th Congress sworn in among pandemic, election challenges

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Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The 117th Congress convened on Sunday to swear in new lawmakers and elect a new speaker of the House as the Senate and House prepare to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election on Wednesday.

Democrats are set to enter the session with the narrowest majority in the House for either party in 20 years with a 222-211 lead over Republicans and two new Democrats and four Republicans were sworn into the Senate while a pair of runoff elections to determine the balance of the chamber will be held Tuesday.

"To say the 117th Congress convenes at a challenging time would indeed be an understatement. From political division to a deadly pandemic to adversaries around the world, the hurdles before us are many, and they are serious," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said. "But there is also plenty of reason for hope."

Sunday's meeting comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the House was expected to hold a moment of silence for Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, R-La., who died last week after contracting the virus.

Newly elected House Republicans David Valadao of California and Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida both tested positive for the coronavirus and was not present Sunday.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Republican representative from Georgia, was seen not wearing a mask on the House floor, prompting staff to speak to her.

Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., secured the votes necessary for another round as House speaker, after running unopposed following a nomination from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

Two Democrats voted against Pelosi, with Rep. Jared Golden of Maine voting for Sen. Tammy, D-Ill., and Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania voting for Jeffries. Reps. Mike Sherrill, Abigail Spanberger and Elissa Slotkin all voted "present" which was considered a nonvote.

"As we go into session today, I do so full of pride to be nominated by our Democratic Caucus to be Speaker of the House," Pelosi said in a letter before the session. "I am enormously grateful for the trust that Members have placed in me. I am confident that the Speaker's election today will show a united Democratic Caucus ready to meet the challenges ahead and we are prepared to set our country on a new course, starting with the Electoral College meeting on Wednesday."

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., declined to say whether she would vote to certify the results of the election as she and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., face Democratic challenges from Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff respectively.

"I'm looking very closely at it," Loeffler told Fox News Sunday, adding however that "none of it matters" if she does not win the runoff election on Tuesday.

Because of the runoff, Purdue is not currently a member of the new Congress, and he is self-quarantining after being in close contact with someone with coronavirus. Loeffler was appointed to her seat on Dec. 31, 2019 and will remain in it until the runoff winner is declared.

If both Loeffler and Perdue are defeated, Democrats and Republicans would hold equal share of the seats in the Senate.

A group of a dozen Republican senators, led by Josh Hawley of Missouri, have said they will object to the certification of the Electoral College vote, likely assuring lawmakers will have to go through a brief delay before President-elect Joe Biden is declared the 46th president of the United States.

Also, at least 140 House members says they will object to certification of the Electoral College results, including four states won by Biden: Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Georgia.

To object to any state's certified electoral votes, at least one member from each house must object. Several House Republicans have already said they will and Hawley's statement all but assures the process will now include a brief debate period.

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