House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks about the late Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, R-La., during a news conference Dec. 30, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
FILE - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during a news conference, Dec. 30, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Representative Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Sunday for her fourth term, with a narrower Democratic majority in the chamber and challenges ahead.

“As speaker of the House, it is my great honor to preside over this sacred ritual of renewal, as we gather under the dome of this temple of democracy to begin the 117th Congress,” Pelosi said Sunday after her election. The Democrat from California surpassed the necessary majority of votes Sunday afternoon, with two Democrats voting for other candidates and three more voting present.  

The Democrat from California, who has led her party in the House since 2003 and is the only woman to be speaker, received 216 votes Sunday afternoon, with two Democrats voting for other candidates and three others voting present. A few members were unable to vote because they had tested positive for the coronavirus or had other health problems.

After losing multiple congressional races in the November election, Democrats hold a narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the new 117th Congress, with 222 Democrats to 211 Republicans. 

Before swearing in Pelosi, dean of the House, Representative Don Young, an Alaska Republican, called for unity.

“I'll be honest, I do not like what I see. It's time we hold hands and talk to one another,” he said, receiving a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle. 

"You will be the speaker of the House — not of the party,” he added, addressing Pelosi.

Pelosi welcomed the new Congress into session Sunday, emphasizing the importance of the lawmakers’ role as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis.

“As we are sworn in today, we accept a responsibility as daunting and demanding as any that previous generations of leadership have faced,” she said.

“Each of our communities has been drastically affected by the pandemic and economic crisis: 350,000 tragic deaths, each one a sadness that we carry in our hearts; over 20 million infections; millions without jobs – a toll almost beyond comprehension,” she added.

Pelosi also paid tribute in her speech to Elijah Cummings and John Lewis, two representatives with years of service who championed civil rights, who died in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court justice, a legal and feminist icon, who also died in 2020.

FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 12, 2020.

Before speaking on the House floor after Pelosi’s election, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, tweeted, “The last Congress was a failure. In fact, it was the least productive Congress in nearly 50 years. The American people deserve better.”

“I wish I could say that the majority in Congress is committed to changing for the common good and focusing on what really matters, but I’m concerned that early actions are pointing in the wrong direction,” he said in his remarks. McCarthy received 209 votes as speaker to Pelosi’s 216.

For the first time since May, lawmakers had to be present for the vote instead of using a proxy system set up amid the pandemic. The vote lasted several hours as lawmakers were brought into the hall in small groups to avoid large crowd numbers.

The new Congress faces several challenges, among them defeating the pandemic that so far has cost more than 350,000 U.S. lives, and reviving the U.S. economy.

The 80-year-old Pelosi has indicated that after this two-year period she will not seek another term as speaker of the House, in accordance with a deal made with Democrats in 2018 who wanted her to step aside as speaker then.