Congress opens new session as virus, Biden’s win dominate

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi administers the oath to members of the 117th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP)

(AP) – Congress convened Sunday for the start of a new session, swearing in lawmakers during a tumultuous period as a growing number of Republicans work to overturn Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump and the coronavirus surges.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi was reelected as House speaker by her party, which retains the majority in the House but with the slimmest margin in 20 years after a surprisingly strong GOP performance in the November election.

Opening the Senate could be among Mitch McConnell’s final acts as majority leader. Republican control is in question until Tuesday’s runoff elections for two Senate seats in Georgia. The outcome will determine which party holds the chamber.

The House and Senate were required to convene Sunday, by law, and imposed strict COVID-19 protocols. Elbow bumps replaced handshakes as senators took the oath of office. Fewer family members than usual joined lawmakers at the Capitol. A special enclosed seating section was designed for lawmakers in COVID-19 quarantine, but testing negative for the virus.

But by day's end, House lawmakers were hugging and congratulating one another after taking the oath of office in the crowded chamber, an alarming scene during the pandemic.

“To say the new Congress convenes at a challenging time would be an understatement,” McConnell said as the chamber opened.

Still, McConnell said with the start of a new year there are reasons for optimism, “let’s make the American people proud.”

Pelosi said the top priority is defeating the coronvirus. And “defeat it we will,” she said to applause.