Congress partisans elected new leaders Wednesday, with Senate Democrats and Senate and House of Representatives Republicans choosing essentially the same people with the same message, though a toned-down Republican team sounded willing to deal with Democrats after their presidential electoral defeat.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was elected minority whip, the second most powerful GOP slot, despite a poor showing as the party’s campaign chief. And House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, announced she would run for leader again after some post-election drama suggesting she might step down. House Democrats will vote Nov. 29.
“The American people have spoken,” said Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. And to the GOP, which saw Democratic President Barack Obama re-elected last week, that means a return to a divided government, but one that McConnell said would follow the example of Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill in the 1980s and “be productive.”
“Divided government has frequently done big things for this country,” McConnell said.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was re-elected without opposition to a larger caucus that gained two seats in the coming term. In a photo op, he reveled in the new Democratic members, who, along with two independents, give the Democrats a more solid 55-45 majority in the new Congress.
Reid said the Senate priorities were what Obama “outlined in the campaign: Protect the middle class and small business.”
To do that, Reid wants to get Obama’s tax increase on the top earners passed and to change Senate rules to make it easier to get around procedural hurdles such as the filibuster, a favorite tool of the minority. Democrats also re-elected Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois to be majority whip, Charles Schumer of New York to be vice chairman of the conference and Patty Murray of Washington state to be conference secretary.
Cornyn, who had a bruising campaign stint despite having to defend only 10 Senate seats, continued to strike a conciliatory post-election tone. While “not much has changed,” said, “what must change is that we must find a way to work together.”
The party’s new Senate campaign chief is Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who tapped Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Texas to be vice chairman for grass-roots organizing and moderate Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio as vice chairman for fundraising.
Senate Republicans also re-elected Sen. John Thune, of South Dakota, as the conference policy chairman, Sen. Roy Blunt, of Missouri, as vice chairman and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming as policy committee chairman.
In the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, ran unopposed to lead his party for another term. But there was a surprising battle for Republican conference chairman between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington state, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price. The contest represented essentially a new, younger, more diverse vision of the party with McMorris Rodgers, and a more traditional, conservative view with Price. McMorris Rodgers won the leadership post.
McMorris Rodgers had the strong support of Boehner, while Price got a big boost from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was the party’s vice-presidential candidate.
Ryan’s decision to publicly take sides did not sit well with Boehner forces, since the speaker has been trying to gain better control of a conference that contains many tea party conservatives. Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee, will play a major role in the fiscal cliff negotiations.Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., ran unopposed to retain his post as majority leader. Kevin McCarthy of California was re-elected majority whip.
Two more women and an African-American lawmaker also were elected to new posts, giving the Republican conference a more diverse look.
Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina fought a close race to be conference secretary, a stepping-stone in leadership, and Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas was elected conference vice chairwoman. Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who’s black, is the sophomore class’s liaison to leadership.
Republicans chose Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon to be the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas was nominated by Boehner to lead the rules committee.
Pelosi made a big show of the Democratic Party’s diversity, appearing with all the female members, more than 60 strong, to announce at a news conference that she was going to stay as leader.
Saying she was proud to stand with her “sisters,” Pelosi said that when she came to Congress in 1987 there were 23 female members. And, despite gains, “We want more,” she said. “If America is going to reach its full opportunity, it has to be with the empowerment of women.”
However, Pelosi bristled when she was asked whether she shouldn’t step aside for a younger leadership, and said she’d been devoted to help elect younger people to Congress.
David Lightman contributed to this report.