Democrats Plan a Busy First 100 Hours When They Take Control of Congress in January
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Shirley Griffith. Our subject this week is the midterm election results.
Elections are often about local issues. But two national issues drove the Democrats' return to power in Congress for President Bush's last two years in office. Voters said they were heavily influenced by the war in Iraq and by wrongdoing in Congress.
The day after the elections last Tuesday, the president said it was time for new leadership at the Pentagon, the Defense Department headquarters. Mr. Bush announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld has served as defense secretary since Mr. Bush came into office in two thousand one.
Mr. Bush said he recognized that many Americans voted to signal their displeasure with the lack of progress being made in Iraq.
The president has nominated Robert Gates to become the new defense secretary. The position requires Senate confirmation. Mr. Gates directed the Central Intelligence Agency during the presidency of Mr. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush. Mr. Gates is currently president of Texas A&M University.
The Democrats' victory marks the first time their party will control the House of Representatives since nineteen ninety-four. Republicans have also controlled the Senate for most of that time, but that too will change.
Democrats look set to control the narrowest of majorities in the Senate: fifty-one to forty-nine.
And that majority will include the last two states decided. Both had very close races. In Montana, Republican Senator Conrad Burns lost to Jon Tester, an organic farmer who was president of the state Senate. And in Virginia, it was Democrat Jim Webb over Republican Senator George Allen.
Mr. Webb is an honored Vietnam War veteran and former Republican who served as secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan. He is also a best-selling author of novels. This was his first attempt at elected office. His opposition to the war in Iraq was an important part of his campaign.
A few months ago, Mr. Allen was considered a strong candidate for re-election in a state where he formerly served as governor. But then he made some damaging statements that cost him his lead.
On Thursday, two days after the election, George Allen accepted defeat. Now he will have to think about his chances as a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in two years.
In Tennessee, Democrat Harold Ford, Jr., a Congressman, lost a close Senate race to Republican Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga. Mr. Ford would have been the first black Senator from the South since the reconstruction period after the Civil War.
In New York State, Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton won a second term easily over her Republican opponent John Spencer. The wife of the former President Bill Clinton is seen as a leading choice for the Democratic nomination for President in two thousand eight.
Republican Senators who kept their offices include Olympia Snowe in Maine and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Craig Thomas was re-elected in Wyoming and Texas voters re-elected Kay Bailey Hutchison to her Senate seat.
If the Senate is ever divided fifty-to-fifty on a vote, then the deciding vote goes to the Vice President of the United States. Under the Constitution, the Vice President acts as President of the Senate.
The newly elected Congress opens in January. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California is to become the next speaker of the House. She will be the first woman in American history to hold the powerful position, and the first Italian-American speaker. The current speaker is Dennis Hastert of Illinois.
Nancy Pelosi represents a district in San Francisco. She comes from a political family. Her father served as mayor of Baltimore, Maryland.
President Bush and Representative Pelosi have promised to work with each other. He invited her to have lunch at the White House last Thursday. But Missus Pelosi has called Mr. Bush things like "dangerous" and "incompetent."
Many conservatives see her as too liberal for the good of the country. But Nancy Pelosi says Americans made their voices heard in the election. She says Americans want a new direction -- most clearly in Iraq.
But she says the Democrats will also work for a more honest and open Congress and for other issues important to Americans. She says the Democrats will move quickly to pass a number of measures in the first one hundred hours of the new Congress.
There is no single Democratic Party plan for what to do about Iraq. But one thing most Democrats could agree on was their criticism of Donald Rumsfeld. Critics say he failed to provide enough troops and to take other steps that might have avoided the current situation in Iraq.
Americans also voted in state and local elections. A majority of states will have Democratic governors for the first time in twelve years. Twenty-eight states will have Democratic governors -- the same number as now have Republican leaders.
Among the new governors will be Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. Mr. Patrick will be the second black governor elected in the United States in more than a century.
Democrats also made gains in state legislatures.
One bright spot for the Republicans was the re-election of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. A year ago, his popularity was down. Many Californians saw him as too conservative. But since then, the former movie star has shown greater willingness to compromise with Democrats in the legislature. He has taken popular steps like working to fight global warming.
Last Tuesday Mr. Schwarzenegger easily defeated his Democratic opponent, state treasurer Phil Angelides.
Voters in almost forty states decided more than two hundred ballot measures. Voters in seven states passed measures to ban same-sex marriage. But one state, Arizona, became the first to defeat such a measure.
Voters in South Dakota defeated a ban on most abortions in that state. And voters in Missouri approved a measure to protect stem-cell research there.
On an economic issue, six states passed measures to raise the minimum wage for workers in the lowest-paid jobs. The newly elected Democrats in Congress say they will work to raise the federal minimum wage.
And in Michigan, voters agreed to bar the use of affirmative-action programs in public schools and government agencies. Critics say programs designed to help women and minorities are unfair to others.
President Bush traveled extensively in the last days before the election to campaign for Republicans. Because of his low approval ratings, though, being connected with the president was not always seen as a good thing. Yet members of Congress, as a group, also faced low approval ratings.
In the weeks before the election, for example, there was the news about Mark Foley, a Republican congressman from Florida. He wrote sexual messages to young men who formerly served as pages in Congress. Mr. Foley resigned after the computer messages became public. A Democrat won his seat in the House.
A Democrat also won the seat that had been held by Bob Ney . Last month, the Ohio Republican became the first member of Congress to admit selling his influence to Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist. Now the six-term congressman faces a prison term at sentencing in January. Jack Abramoff is already in prison.
Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California Republican, was sent to prison for taking money from defense companies. His seat went to a Republican in the election last week.
But in Texas, a Democrat won the seat that had been held by Tom DeLay. Mr. DeLay resigned as House majority leader earlier this year. He was charged with violating campaign-finance laws in Texas. He denied the charges but did not seek re-election to his seat from the Houston area.
There were Democrats in Congress who were also accused of wrongdoing. But on Election Day, Americans said they were angry with Congress in general and, in many cases, President Bush as well.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Mario Ritter. Transcripts and MP3 files of our programs are on the Web at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.
Correction: Jack Abramoff was not in prison at the time of the election, as reported; on November 15 he began a six-year term in a case involving a Florida casino deal. He still faces sentencing in a congressional corruption case in Washington.