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US House Democrats, Republicans Pledge Bipartisanship

As a new 111th Congress convened in the U.S. Capitol,Tuesday, majority Democrat and minority Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives sounded notes of bipartisanship, pledging to work to repair the U.S. economy.

Newly-elected and returning members, accompanied by their families, crowded into the House chamber, and the first order of business was to establish a quorum, announced by outgoing House clerk Lorraine Miller. "Four hundred twenty eight representatives have recorded their presence. A quorum is present," she said.

The number of representatives is normally 435 but varies at times when members retire, resign or die.

One resignation announced on Monday was that of Rahm Emanuel, the former congressman who is now chief of staff to President-elect Barack Obama. A special election will be held in April for his seat in Illinois.

Later came another formality but one carrying considerable dramatic effect, the formal nominations for the powerful position of House Speaker, announced by Democrat John Larson and Republican Mike Pence.

LARSON: "The Democratic caucus has met and unanimously endorsed [California Democratic Representative] Nancy Alessandro Pelosi for Speaker."

PENCE: "[Ohio Republican Representative] John A. Boehner, a representative-elect from the state of Ohio, for Speaker of the House."

Pelosi's re-election was never in doubt. The first woman ever to serve as Speaker, she now presides over the strongest Democratic majority in 16 years, currently 256 to 178 seats.

Boehner returns to lead Republicans now in their weakest position in years, after the national election this past November and retirements of key members.

The 111th Congress convened amid continuing pessimism about a recession-battered U.S. economy, something both Pelosi and Boehner addressed in their speeches.

In his remarks, Boehner said Republicans are ready to work with Democrats, and President-elect Obama. "When our president, our new president, extends his hand across the aisle, to do what is right for our country, Republicans will extend ours in return," he said.

Pelosi said lawmakers must look past political difference as they face historic challenge. "Let us all pledge to the American people that we will look forward not backward, we will join hands not point fingers, we will rise to the challenge recognizing that our love of country is stronger than any issue which may divide us," he said.

Expressions of bipartisanship aside, the first item on the House agenda brought the first partisan battle of 2009, centering on an issue carried over from the previous Congress.

Republicans assert that rules changes engineered by Democrats will have the effect of suppressing debate and making it difficult for the minority to offer substantive alternatives to legislation on the floor.

Democrats deny these allegations, saying rule changes will prevent Republicans from obstructing important legislation and help Democrats advance important agenda items once Barack Obama assumes the presidency.