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Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi returns as Speaker of the House

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images North America, AFP | Nancy Pelosi talks to reporters during her weekly news conference at the US Capitol Visitor Center on December 13, 2018.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, 78, returned to the role of House Speaker on Thursday, the only woman ever to hold the office and the highest-ranking female in US political history.

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As the Speaker of the House, Pelosi is third in the line of succession after the president and vice president.

Born into politics as the daughter of a Baltimore mayor and congressman, Pelosi has represented San Francisco, California's 12th District, in Congress for the past 31 years, making history as the first female Speaker in 2007.

In accepting the Speaker's gavel again on Thursday, Pelosi pledged to "reach across the aisle in this chamber and across the divisions in this great nation".

She added: "The floor of this House must be America's Town Hall: where the people will see our debates and where their voices will be heard and affect our decisions."

Discussing Democratic Party priorities, she addressed lowering healthcare costs, investing in green infrastructure and "restoring integrity" to government.

Pelosi: 'One in five children in America lives in poverty and that's intolerable'

"We have to address the disparity of income in our country, we have to address climate crisis and what that means in terms of environmental justice in our country," she said.

"We have no illusions that our work will be easy, that all of us in this chamber will always agree," Pelosi added. "But let each of us pledge that when we disagree, we will respect each other and we will respect the truth."

Pelosi invites Trump to address Congress

Later on Thursday, she invited US President Donald Trump to deliver the State of the Union address to Congress later this month.

"I invite you to deliver your State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 in the House Chamber," Pelosi wrote in a letter to Trump, a copy of which she posted on Twitter.

Pelosi returns to the House leadership amid a government shutdown over the $5 billion that Trump wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Democrats have refused to budge.

Pelosi told NBC's "Today" show unequivocally that the budget for the new Congress will not include money for the border wall.

"How many more times can we say no?" she asked.

Pelosi said negotiating with Trump is particularly difficult because he "resists science, evidence, data, truth".

"It's hard to pin the president down on the facts," she said.

Trump on Thursday congratulated Pelosi on her return as Speaker, saying he hoped they could work together.

Holding a surprise media appearance, Trump hailed her "very, very great achievement".

"Hopefully we're going to work together and we're going to get lots of things done, like infrastructure and so much more. And I know they want to do that very badly," Trump said.

Pelosi has been known to stand firm on issues of importance to her. She made history again in February by delivering the longest address ever in the House, speaking for more than eight hours about protecting undocumented migrant youths from deportation. Pelosi said she would oppose the compromise federal budget deal being offered by Republican senators until House Speaker Paul Ryan gave assurances that he would bring immigration legislation to the floor for a vote.

>> Pelosi breaks US House record with 8-hour 'Dreamers' speech

Pelosi has been vilified and dismissed by the GOP as a San Francisco liberal, with Republican attack ads prominently featuring her image and deriding her "liberal agenda". And with Trump in the White House and Republicans still controlling the Senate, her Democratic policy proposals will be fighting an uphill battle.

Pelosi's return to the role of Speaker faced off a challenge from a group of incumbent House members and congressional newcomers calling for new leadership, saying it was time for a new generation to take the helm.

But one by one Pelosi won over her sceptics, flipping "no" votes to the "yes" column. Some challengers were offered lead positions on their own legislative priorities or a gavel of their own to wield as the chair of a special panel.

And Pelosi compromised a little too, promising to serve no more than four years in the leadership role in order to make way for the next generation.

“Every aspect of it – the outside Democratic support groups that really came through for her, her corralling votes one by one, her taking on her critics and disarming them, cutting deals here and there where she had to – I just think it’s a modern case study on internal congressional politics,” Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly told Politico.

By most accounts Pelosi is a savvy political player who knows how to marshal her troops when she needs to and how to get things done in Washington.

"People have gone wrong by underestimating her for years," journalist Elaine Povich, who wrote a 2008 biography of Pelosi, told the BBC. "Never bet against her. She's consistently the hardest worker, the best organized and great vote counter."

And her vast knowledge of the nitty gritty of US laws and regulations makes her a consummate debater.

“She understands legislation down to the minute details and can flip you back and forth in a negotiation session based on her knowledge, skill and experience,” Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri told Politico.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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