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One blustery morning

January 2007

One blustery morning

(Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House on January 5)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi huddled inside St. Peter's Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., for a prayer service devoted to the historic events about to unfold: In a few hours, the California Democrat would become the first woman elected as speaker of the House of Representatives.

After the prayer service, Pelosi passed a handful of pro-life activists outside holding small signs with a simple message: "You can't be Catholic and pro-abortion." The congresswoman bustled by without speaking.

A few minutes later, Pelosi met another set of activists outside the Library of Congress: Women from the pro-abortion National Organization for Women (NOW) leaned against an 8-foot, multi-colored card filled with some 10,000 congratulatory messages for Pelosi from people all over the country. A beaming Pelosi called out: "Thank you! NOW has always been there for me."

Later that morning, in a traditional ceremony inside the House of Representatives, Pelosi said: "For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling." She told fellow congressmen: "I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship."

No one disputed the historic significance of Pelosi's election as the first female speaker of the House, but the morning's earlier events outside the church and the library confirmed what most already knew: The promise to establish partnership over partisanship was unlikely to be kept.

Pelosi's rise to the top position in the House flowed from Democrats' surge in congressional elections two months before: The party gained a 15-seat advantage in the House, and a two-vote advantage in the Senate. For the first time in 12 years, Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Exit polls found voters wanted a new direction in the country, especially on the war in Iraq. A handful of Republicans offered another reason for the GOP's defeat: The party presided over record national debt and egregious pork-barrel spending.

An elated Democratic majority promised a slew of major reforms and delivered a few: Congress passed earmark reform and raised the federal minimum wage. But by year's end it deadlocked on spending bills and Democrats couldn't change the issue on which they most heavily campaigned: the war in Iraq. Less than nine months after the Democratic takeover, Congress' approval rating fell to 11 percent, a record low.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) mocked the dismal rating on the presidential campaign trail: "When you get down that low, you're down to paid staffers and blood relatives."

Also in January ...

While Democrats took control of Congress, President Bush vowed to maintain control of the war. Six days after Rep. Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House, Bush announced plans to send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq over the next few months. Democrats (and some Republicans) howled, but Bush said the troop surge was essential to confronting the spiraling sectarian violence in Iraq, especially in treacherous Baghdad.

As Congress looked to new beginnings, Americans watched a final ending unfold: More than 3,700 politicians, presidents, diplomats, and military officials paid tribute to former president Gerald Rudolph Ford at his state funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Jan. 2.

Ford died the week before at the age of 93. The two-hour funeral paid tribute to Ford's legacy as a president who brought stability to the White House after President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. The service also paid tribute to Ford as a citizen: Boy Scouts in simple uniforms served as ushers in the cavernous cathedral, honoring the former Eagle Scout turned head of state.

The longest oil pipeline in the world became the center of international attention when Russian oil exporters cut off its supply over a dispute with the nation of Belarus. The shutdown temporarily disrupted the oil supply in Germany and Poland and left the European Union scrambling to negotiate a solution.

The dispute began when Russia doubled the price it charged the beleaguered Belarus for natural gas. Belarus responded by imposing a heavy transit fee for the Russian oil flowing through its nation. When Russia refused to pay, Belarussian authorities siphoned off oil as compensation.

The three-day standoff ended when Belarus agreed to lift the fee. Belarussian president Alexander Lukashneko, known as Europe's last dictator, had said his country would rather live in unheated dugouts than pay higher prices.

Former Marxist leader Daniel Ortega was inaugurated as president of Nicaragua on Jan. 10, adding strength to a coalition of leftist leaders across Latin America. It was a return to power for Ortega: The former revolutionary leader served as the country's president for nearly 11 years in the 1980s, but fell from power in 1990 after a decade of war with U.S.-backed guerillas.

Ortega said he would cultivate relations with America, but also reached out to socialist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro. From his confinement in Cuba after declining health, Castro reached back, sending a letter with his "utmost support" for the new leader.

Some dogs hunt, other dogs heel. In Congress, Blue Dog Democrats did a little bit of both. The party that took control of Congress in January managed the feat with the help of at least 43 self-described Blue Dog Democrats who consider themselves conservative, especially on fiscal issues.

In January the group promised to "put a lid on spending" in Congress. Three months later, the House passed a supplemental spending bill for the Iraq war that included $24 billion in pork-barrel spending for agricultural projects. Some of those projects were planted squarely in Blue Dog districts.

Sanford Bishop, a Blue Dog from Georgia, defended an earmark that lined up $74 million for peanut storage in his home state: "One's man pork is another man's sustenance.

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie is national editor of WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously worked for the Charlotte World. Jamie has covered politics, disasters, religion, and more for WORLD. She resides in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.