Drama, new faces fill the Capitol on first day of 113th Congress

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
The Ticket

Updated 4:25 pm ET

WASHINGTON—With temperatures dropping below freezing here Thursday, members of the 113th Congress met for the first time for a day packed with tradition, pictures with their families and votes on leaders and rules that will guide the chamber for the next two years.

"It's so cold out here! Wow!" Maryland Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards said as she charged up the marble steps of the Capitol. She had just joined dozens of other women for a special photo opp with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the Capitol steps to celebrate the largest class of female lawmakers in history.

The new Congress features 90 new faces in the House and Senate.

The House side of the Capitol was abuzz with freshmen—some excited, others downright anxious—as they wandered the halls and tunnels of their new home. Elevators full of children and bright-eyed new members creaked up and down the floors of the Capitol building throughout the day.

Inside the Speaker's Lobby, the ornate lobby next to the House floor, lines of tables awaited, stacked with cardboard boxes full of shiny congressional lapel pins. Seasoned members sauntered into the familiar territory to fetch the pins, while the newbies timidly poked their heads in with their families close behind.

"Does anyone know how this works?" one soon-to-be member asked no one in particular when he walked in to receive the pin that would differentiate him from the rest of his fellow Americans for the next two years. He pulled it out of its clear plastic bag and examined it. Standing nearby, a young girl, the daughter of Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, offered advice on how to affix the emblem to his lapel.

At 11 a.m., a stoic House Speaker John Boehner, surrounded by an entourage of aides and security agents, sauntered through the lobby and onto the House floor. Boehner didn't stop to speak with anyone for long, offering short and crisp Good Mornings and Hellos before continuing on his way. In just over an hour, the chamber would vote on whether he would lead them for the next two years.

Amid the shuffle of members heading in and out, reporters gathered near the doors of the House floor taking friendly bets on whether enough conservative Republicans would band together to oust Boehner as speaker in the elections later that day.

"Last chance for a prediction," one reporter said before the vote.

"What do you think? Newt Gingrich?" replied another.

But when the time to vote for speaker of the House arrived, the nine Republican members who publicly defected and voted against Boehner weren't enough to bring the speaker down. Three others declined to vote at all, and Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas voted present, offering no vote of confidence for Boehner.

Facing the front of the House chamber, Republicans sat together on the right side of the room with Democrats on the left. Lawmakers and their families filled every seat in the room, while others lined the back wall. The clerked called the roll for a voice vote, and one by one the members shouted their choices for speaker.

Each time a Republican called out a name that wasn't "John Boehner," Democrats filled the room with shouts of "Ohhhh!" When Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun and Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert voted for Allen West—a tea party-backed Republican who lost his seat after a single term—several Democrats burst out laughing.

While most of the Republicans merely stood and said the name of their choice when called upon, many Democrats added their own personal flair: Spanish speaking members proclaimed their vote for "Señora Nancy Pelosi"; Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia thrust his fist in the air and cast his vote for "Nancy Pelosi the Great!"; and California Rep. Loretta Sanchez used the opportunity to show her support for the lady "from the great state of California!"

But in the end, by just a few votes, Boehner secured the post for another two years. Addressing the chamber with gavel in one hand and a white handkerchief in the other, Boehner—known for his public crying episodes—appeared to fight back tears as he swore in the 113th Congress and delivered his first speech of the new session.

"To our new members and their families, welcome. You are likely feeling awestruck right about now. History runs through here. And now you are among a select few to share in this privilege," Boehner said. "For those who are returning, who have walked these aisles before, maybe it’s time we feel awestruck again."

After Boehner finished his remarks, most of the members dispersed to host their own personal parties throughout the Capitol and to be sworn in again for photo ops with their families.