WASHINGTON — Cheering Democrats returned Nancy Pelosi to the House speaker's post Thursday as the 116th Congress ushered in a historically diverse freshman class eager to confront President Donald Trump in a new era of divided government.
Pelosi, elected speaker 220-192, took the gavel saying U.S. voters "demanded a new dawn" in the November election that swept the Democrats to a House majority and are looking to "the beauty of our Constitution" to provide checks and balances on power.
Pelosi faced 15 dissenting votes from fellow Democrats. But for a few hours, smiles and backslapping were the order of the day. The new speaker invited scores of lawmakers' kids to join her on the dais as she was sworn in, calling the House to order "on behalf of all of America's children."
Even Trump congratulated her during a rare appearance at the White House briefing room, saying her election by House colleagues was "a tremendous, tremendous achievement." The president has tangled often with Pelosi and is sure to do so again with Democrats controlling the House, but he said, "I think it'll be a little bit different than a lot of people are thinking."
As night fell, the House quickly got to work on the partial government shutdown, which was winding up Day 13 with Trump demanding billions in Mexican border wall funding to bring it to an end. Democrats approved legislation to re-open the government — but without the $5.6 billion in wall money, which means it has no chance in the Republican Senate.
The new Congress is like none before. There are more women than ever, and a new generation of Muslims, Latinos, Native Americans and African-Americans is creating a House more aligned with the population of the United States. However, the Republican side in the House is still made up mostly of white men. In the Senate, Republicans bolstered their ranks in the majority.
In a nod to the moment, Pelosi, the first female speaker — who reclaimed the post she lost to the GOP in 2011 — broadly pledged to make Congress work for all Americans even as her party readies to challenge Trump with investigations and subpoena powers that threaten the White House agenda.
Pelosi promised to "restore integrity to government" and outlined an agenda "to lower health costs and prescription drug prices and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions; to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green and modern infrastructure from sea to shining sea."
The day unfolded as one of both celebration and impatience. Newly elected lawmakers arrived, often with friends and families in tow, to take the oath of office and pose for ceremonial photos. Then they swiftly turned to the shutdown.
Vice President Mike Pence swore in newly elected senators, but Senate Republicans under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no plans to consider the House bills unless Trump agreed to sign them into law. That ensured the shutdown would continue, clouding the first days of the new session.
McConnell said Republicans have shown the Senate is "fertile soil for big, bipartisan accomplishments," but the question is whether House Democrats will engage in "good governance or political performance art."
It's a time of stark national political division that some analysts say is on par with the Civil War era. Battle lines are drawn not just between Democrats and Republicans but within the parties themselves, splintered by their left and right flanks.
Pelosi defied history in returning to the speaker's office after eight years in the minority, overcoming internal opposition from Democrats demanding a new generation of leaders. She will be the first to regain the gavel since Sam Rayburn of Texas in 1955.
Putting Pelosi's name forward for nomination, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming Democratic caucus chair, recounted her previous accomplishments — passing the Affordable Care Act, helping the country out of the Great Recession — as preludes to her next ones. He called her leadership "unparalleled in modern American history."
One Democrat, Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, cast her vote for Pelosi "on the shoulders of women who marched 100 years ago" for women's suffrage. Newly elected Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, an anti-gun violence advocate, dedicated hers to her slain teenage son, Jordan Davis.
As speaker, Pelosi will face challenges from the party's robust wing of liberal newcomers, including 29-year-old New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has risen to such prominence she is already known around the Capitol — and on her prolific social media accounts — by the nickname "AOC." California Rep. Brad Sherman was to introduce articles of impeachment against Trump.
Republicans face their own internal battles as they decide how closely to tie their political fortunes to Trump. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy's name was put into nomination for speaker by his party's caucus chair, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the daughter of the former vice president. He faced six "no" votes from his now-shrunken GOP minority.
As McCarthy passed the gavel to Pelosi he said voters wonder if Congress is "still capable" of solving problems, and said this period of divided government is "no excuse for gridlock."
Part one of a three-part series on NAU research.
For the first time, Northern Arizona University has been ranked within the top 100 National Science Foundation (NSF) research rankings of universities without a medical school, coming in at No. 96 for the 2017 fiscal year. The university also moved to No. 201 for all universities in the United States, up from No. 213 in the previous rankings.
A university-issued statement revealed NAU spent $42.6 million on research throughout the 2017 fiscal year, a large contributor to its $2.5 billion in statewide economic impacts generated in the same time.
The NSF rankings were released in late November with the results of the Higher Education Research and Development Survey (HERD). The annual survey looks at various aspects of research and development programs at academic institutions that spend at least $150,000 annually on these programs. It incorporates expenditures by field and type of research, funding and number of involved employees. This year, 903 institutions were surveyed; data for the 2017 fiscal year was collected from November 2017 through June 2018.
Due to a 14.5 percent increase in research expenditures in 2018 over 2017, NAU expects its ranking will improve again next November, when the HERD results for 2018 are finalized.
NAU also recorded 50 unique inventors in 2018, including 17 first-time inventors and 14 women inventors. The total number of patents granted also increased from an average of less than two per year from 2002 through 2013 to 15 total patents in 2018 alone.
What makes the biggest contribution to NAU research?
NAU President Rita Cheng says it’s all about the faculty – not just bringing distinguished researchers into town, but also keeping them here. The supportive environment provided to NAU faculty has made a tremendous difference in the university’s research accomplishments, she said.
“Our primary mission is to educate students and we do that by creating knowledge and making sure we have the very best professors in the classrooms and labs,” Cheng said.
NAU is an R2 Doctoral University, the second-highest tier in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s classification system, characterized by its “high research activity.” The Carnegie Classification is a national ranking of universities that has been around since 1970 and is updated every few years.
According to its website, R2 Doctoral Universities “include only institutions that awarded at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees and had at least $5 million in total research expenditures.”
The 2018 report listed approximately 130 institutions classified as R2 Doctoral Universities with high research activity. Lack of a medical or veterinary school was a determining factor in NAU’s classification as a doctoral university with high – but not “very high” – research activity.
Cheng said the goal for NAU is to be the best it can be among its R2 peers. To do so, the university encourages faculty of all disciplines to not only conduct research, but also to publish those findings in credible, peer-reviewed mediums.
“Our reputation grows as our faculty accomplishments grow. We can then have our students mentored by these accomplished faculties and then they go out and do great things with their knowledge,” Cheng said. “I certainly want NAU to continue to thrive. I want us to be competitive in hiring faculty and in attracting and educating students... We can’t be all things to all people – we’re never going to be a large, research one institution – but what I want us to have is deep, meaningful impact to Arizona.”
Recent university research has occurred in a variety of disciplines including ecology, health, education, astronomy and bioengineering. According to the university’s research webpage, faculty-led initiatives have become university-wide centers or institutes. These organizations range from the Center for American Indian Resilience, which partners with American Indian communities to promote health and resilience, to the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research, which promotes cross-disciplinary research to understand environmental processes and changes.
The university’s business plan describes that increased research activity not only makes the university more appealing for faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, it also increases learning opportunities and better prepares students to join the workforce. The plan also states that NAU will continue to address its need for modern laboratory, collaboration and office spaces.
One strategy to do so is the creation of the $139 million multi-discipline/STEM academic/research building scheduled for construction in 2020. Updates to existing research labs will also be conducted from 2020 to 2022.
In 2018 alone, professors of all disciplines received recognitions for their accomplishments.
David Wagner, director of the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute’s Biodefense and Disease Ecology Center, received a $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency in September. Wagner, a disease ecologist, will be using the grant to fund a three-year research project on F. tularensis, a pathogen that has been used in the creation of international biological warfare agents. Although Wagner has been studying this particular pathogen for nearly 15 years, the new funding will help his team better understand the life cycle and behavior for use in protecting Americans from this potential threat.
Professor of Ecosystem Ecology Michelle C. Mack also received recognition in 2018 as a woman leader in fire science, and was featured in the most recent issue of the journal Fire. Her work focuses on ecosystem structure and function, especially plant form and function. Fire noted her research in how fires impact carbon processes, as well as her analysis of tree rings in black spruce forests to predict future ecosystem resilience to fires.
Cheng said she enjoys seeing NAU faculty members overcome diverse challenges and receive recognition for their successes in such ways.
“My favorite part is watching and being able to celebrate the accomplishments and the pride that our faculty has in their work,” she said. “It’s just a tremendous joy.”
You are probably not a traffic engineer, but now you very well may be assisting the Flagstaff Metropolitan Planning Organization in mapping and modeling traffic patterns in Flagstaff and across the county, all by just carrying your smartphone on your daily commute.
Big data has hit Flagstaff as FMPO is now using cell phone data to help better understand the city's traffic.
The data, purchased from the San Francisco-based company StreetLight Data, is gathered from smartphone applications that use location services.
After being downloaded onto a smartphone, many apps will ask the user for permission to access the phone’s location. If approved, the app will then be able to ping a user's movements, creating a mountain of location data each day.
After being used by the app, the location data doesn’t just disappear. Instead companies sell it, often to advertisers who can use it to sell products and services nearby.
However, that data is also being acquired by FMPO said David Wessel, the organization’s manager. It has already begun to change the way they see transportation in Flagstaff.
It does not, however, change the way they see any one individual in the city. When the data arrives, it has already been made anonymous, Wessel said, with much of it already having been turned into a map format.
In fact there are some areas, mainly in rural parts of the county, in which they might not be able to use the data because so few people live there and identification could become likely.
As the CEO of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority Erika Mazza said, “We could see that there might be 75 people who traveled from Tempe to Snowbowl one day, [but that’s all].”
Nonetheless, the data could change the way the city tries to manage traffic, give staff a better understanding of how developments or new roads may create or reduce congestion and change the routes buses take.
For example, Wessel said through the data, they quickly found original estimates for traffic patterns were now off. The original estimates for traffic had been found during a study in the late 80s.
At that time, such data was collected by posting people outside Flagstaff. They would then try to wave down passing vehicles before asking the occupants to fill out a survey on where they were traveling to and from.
As one might imagine, Wessel said, this was not easy and they would be lucky to get a sample size of even 1 percent.
A similar study was repeated in 1998 when FMPO staff sat at truck stops an hour or so outside Flagstaff and asked those who stopped where they were traveling to and from.
This also may have skewed the data, Wessel said, as the majority of people who were driving after just leaving Flagstaff, or only an hour away from their destination in the city, were probably less likely to stop than those in the middle of a trip.
Now capturing about 18 percent of the trips within and across the county, the cell phone data gives the FMPO a far more accurate picture of traffic.
TRAFFIC ON MILTON
Some aspects of what the data shows are more obvious. When it comes to those traveling to and from Northern Arizona University every day, the data shows that a much larger percentage of traffic coming from sections of the city that contain more apartment buildings.
At the same time, they also found that very few people traveling to and from NAU use Milton Road with far more simply crossing the street.
On Milton, it also shows that 60 percent of the traffic on the road doesn’t actually travel along the whole stretch. Instead the majority of people who travel on Milton have a destination that is somewhere along the road itself.
Being able to see patterns like this may influence the traffic solutions that are found for Milton, especially as the Arizona Department of Transportation is in the midst of creating a plan for the future of the road.
For the bus system, this data can also be useful in a number of ways, said NAIPTA development director Kate Morley.
“This is our first time using this kind of data and we're really excited,” Morley said.
For one, Morley said, the data can provide travel time. Passengers and residents often are concerned about congestion on roads, but beyond simply counting the number of vehicles, congestion can actually be hard to quantify and measure.
Travel time can be a good way to do so, with it increasing when roads are congested and decreasing when they are not, Morley said. It can also help them by providing a clue as to how well they are providing service to the city.
By laying their bus routes over the data maps, Morley said they can tell if the routes they are providing are bringing people to where they are going in an efficient manner or if they may need to change. Moving forward, the data can show them where new routes may be best placed to reach populations they don’t already serve.
Mazza pointed to the Ponderosa Trails neighborhood. Looking at the data, they noticed that Ponderosa Trails has a high travel rate to the Flagstaff Medical Center, likely because many people who work at FMC may live in that neighborhood.
So looking to the future, Mazza said they could implement a bus route that more directly ties those two areas together.
Wessel said they are also hoping to compare the traffic data to the demographics of the city. By doing this, they may be able to compare the data of travel patterns to data on income as a way to see how and where lower income residents, who may have lesser access to cars, travel most.
This could influence how the city implements future transportation systems, perhaps providing better public transportation to these areas, Wessel said.
However, this has not come cheap and Wessel said they only have access to the data until mid-March and they don’t know whether they will buy the data next year.
Instead, they are using it to help build a better model of the city's, and parts of the county’s, traffic. By calibrating the model with this data, and using the more traditional sources of data they have such as simple traffic counts, they will be able to reap the benefits long after the data is no longer available.