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Congress convenes, democrats take control

WASHINGTON &

Congress convened today with Democrats in control of both the House and Senate for the first time in a dozen years. "Today we make history. Today we change the direction of our country," exulted Rep. Nancy Pelosi, poised to become the first woman speaker in history.

Both Democrats and Republicans alike pledged cooperation despite years of bitter partisanship and gridlock, to try to get the 110th Congress off on a productive note.

House Democrats also were ready to impose a ban on gifts from lobbyists and a clampdown on travel funded by private interests &

measures crafted in response to the ethics scandals that weakened Republicans in last fall's elections.

"The Democrats are back," Pelosi said earlier Thursday. She will lead a fractious House divided 233-202, with Democrats claiming control for the first time since 1994.

In remarks prepared for delivery after her swearing in later today, Pelosi said: "The election of 2006 was a call to change &

not merely to change the control of Congress, but for a new direction for our country. Nowhere were the American people more clear about the need for a new direction than in Iraq. The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end."

Democrats maintain a tenuous hold on a Senate divided 51-49, with ailing South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson slowly recovering in a Washington hospital weeks after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

The fragile Senate margin ensures little Democratic-sponsored legislation can pass without support from at least some Republicans.

"Our efforts are going to be to work in a bipartisan basis in an open fashion to solve the problems of the American people," said new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Taking the oath of office were 10 new senators &

eight of them Democrats, Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Joe Lieberman returned to the Senate for a fourth term after losing a raucous Democratic primary in Connecticut but winning in November running as an Independent.

The House has 55 new members, all but 13 of them Democrats. Two of them, Baron Hill of Indiana and Nick Lampson of Texas, had previously served.

The day capped the rise of several Democratic veterans to powerful committee posts &

including Charles Rangel of New York as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and David Obey on the powerful Appropriations panel &

after 12 dispiriting years in the minority.

House Republicans, meanwhile, adjusted to their unaccustomed roles out of power, grousing about being shut out of any chance to affect the early agenda.

The convening of the Democratic-led Congress also opened a new chapter in the presidency of Bush, who faces divided government as he cements his legacy in his final two years in the White House. Bush had a light public schedule Thursday, intended at least in part to let the new Congress have its day.