Nancy Pelosi, elected House Speaker again, says Trump indictment can't be ruled out
Top Democrat will reach out to Republicans, promises to serve no more than 4 years
Nancy Pelosi was re-elected Thursday as U.S. House Speaker, the only woman who has held the office and now one of the few elected officials who will be returning to the role.
The last time a Speaker regained the gavel was more than a half-century ago. The final tally was 220 votes for Pelosi to 192 for Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, with other candidates taking 18 votes. Three ballots were marked as "present."
Upon accepting the gavel from McCarthy, Pelosi said she was particularly proud to serve as a female speaker in the 100th year of U.S. women having the right to vote.
With President Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans still controlling the Senate, Pelosi's return to the Speaker's office to lead a Democratic majority with its biggest freshmen class since Watergate will shake up the dynamic in Washington even beyond the new era of divided government, a point she acknowledged.
Two months ago, she said in her acceptance speech, "the American people spoke and demanded a new dawn."
She pledged to extend a hand across the aisle to Republicans, saying this is what Americans want.
"They expect and deserve for us to try to find our common ground. And we must try to do that. Stand our ground where we can't, but always extend the hand of friendship."
The mother of five and grandmother of nine has shattered glass ceilings to become one of the most powerful politicians of the 21st century. But she had to assuage some members of her own party by promising, at 78, to serve no more than four years in leadership, making way for the next generation.
Pelosi has also faced pressure from some incoming Democrats who have been willing to talk about the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Democrats were cautious about mentioning the "I" word during the 2018 midterms for fear it would backfire politically, but Pelosi did not shy away from it Thursday in an interview airing on NBC's Today show.
"We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn't avoid impeachment for a political reason," she said. Pelosi also said she would wait for the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Only the House can begin impeachment proceedings. And while Justice Department guidelines suggest a sitting president can't be indicted, Pelosi called that "an open discussion" and "not conclusive."
"Everything indicates that a president can be indicted after he is no longer president."
Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
With respect to the partial government shutdown that began in mid-December, she told the NBC show that Democrats want the "Trump shutdown" to end, but she's unwilling to fund Trump's wall.
"There is no amount of persuasion he can use."
'It's hard to pin the president down'
While the president has occasionally expressed begrudging admiration of her political skills, Pelosi said negotiating with Trump is difficult because he "resists science, evidence, data, truth."
"It's hard to pin the president down on the facts," she said.
Reaching out to opponents will be a challenge, as Pelosi remains a highly polarizing figure, vilified by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal and a caricature of big government.
In previewing Democratic priorities, she spoke about lowering health-care costs, investing in green infrastructure and "restoring integrity" to government. And Pelosi pledged to take action on climate change, which she called "the existential threat of our time."
"The American people understand the urgency," she said. "The Congress must join them. The entire Congress must work to put an end to the inaction and denial of science that threaten the planet and the future."
Pelosi's return to the Speaker's office wasn't guaranteed. A core group of rank-and-file Democrats has hungered for new leadership, saying it's time for a new generation to take the helm.
They've become tired of the Republican attack ads featuring Pelosi that are constantly run against them back home, and they worried she would be a drag on efforts to keep the majority in the next election. They enlisted some of the newcomers from the freshmen class to their ranks to try to stop her from regaining the gavel.
But one by one, Pelosi peeled away the skeptics, flipping No votes to the Yes column, sometimes in a matter of days. Some were given lead positions on their legislative priorities, even a gavel of their own to chair special panels.
"She'll be more than fine," said Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming House chairman of the Democratic caucus.
Jeffries said when he told his family that, because of his new position, he may be the one to put Pelosi's name forward during the nomination proceeding, his youngest son said to him, "Don't blow the moment, dad."
With files from CBC News