08:24 GMT +319 August 2019
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    Members of Congress arrive before the start of the 116th Congress and swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the US House of Representatives at the US Capitol on January 3, 2019 in Washington,DC.

    New US Congress Convenes With Democratic Majority in House Amid Shutdown

    © AFP 2019 / Brendan SMIALOWSKI
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    The new Democratic-majority Congress convened on Thursday amid an ongoing partial government shutdown, the ending of which will be the first order of business.

    The US House of Representatives on Thursday elected Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to be the chamber's speaker.

    Pelosi was set to assume the position, which she has previously held from 2007 to 2011 after a simple majority of members backed her in the vote.

    November's US midterm elections left Congress, a legislative branch, divided after the Democratic Party flipped what would eventually be around 40 seats to take control of the 435-member House of Representatives. Republicans, meanwhile, kept their majority — and even gained two seats — in the 100-member Senate.

    The Wall

    The first order of business for Congress will be to reopen the federal government which has been in a partial shutdown mode since December 22 after Democrats refused to yield to Trump's demand to include $5.6 billion in next year's budget to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

    Democratic leaders met with Trump at the White House on Wednesday in another failed attempt to end the partial government shutdown.

    Following the meeting, Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Democrats would continue to push their own legislation when the new Congress convenes to reopen the US federal government after Trump failed to provide a good reason for not ending the shutdown.

    "Tomorrow [Thursday] we will bring to the floor legislation that will open up government," Pelosi told reporters indicating that the Democrats would continue with their current proposal. "It will be based on actions taken by the Republican Senate."

    Trump, after the meeting, expressed a different sentiment, signaling that he was prepared to collaborate with the rival party.

    "I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats to pass a bill that secures our borders, supports the agents and officers on the ground, and keeps America Safe. Let's get it done!" Trump said.

    Currently, there is nearly 600 miles worth of barrier, primarily consisting of 16-foot high fencing, along the 1,900-mile US-Mexico border. Trump wants to erect steel and/or concrete walls over 30 feet tall on more than 200 miles of the border that would include new and replacement barriers.

    Other Agenda Items

    According to CNN, Democrats are also planning to mark their takeover of the House for the first time in eight years by preparing a bill that would force US presidential nominees to publicly disclose 10 years of tax returns.

    Trump has defied tradition by refusing to release his tax returns as other US presidential candidates have during the modern era.

    With respect to longer-term agenda items, House lawmakers have repeatedly vowed to both intensify current investigations of the Trump administration and launch new probes related to a number of issues ranging from ethics violations to Russia ties.

    Trump, by the end of 2018, had reportedly become increasingly concerned about the possibility of impeachment after the Democrats took over the House as a result of the midterm elections.

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