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Democrats pledge to run the Senate with a bipartisan approach

WASHINGTON—Democrats cheered their takeover of the Senate on Thursday after incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia conceded that Democrat James Webb's 7,200-vote lead was too large to overcome in a recount.

"The election's over. It's time for a change," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to whoops from Capitol Hill staff and party activists at a rally outside the Capitol minutes after Allen conceded. Reid's expected to be the next Senate majority leader.

Allen, a former Virginia governor and conservative icon who'd been considering a run for president, said he wouldn't seek a recount because "I do not wish to cause more rancor by protracted litigation, which, in my judgment, would not alter the results."

Allen's concession, matched by one from Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, made it official that, starting in January, Democrats will control both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years. With that control comes the leverage to block President Bush's priorities—including nominees—and to force him to consider Democrats' priorities in his last two years on the job.

Senate Democrats pledged to work in a bipartisan spirit. Reid and Bush are to meet Friday at the White House to begin discussing common goals and opportunities for compromise, which include an immigration overhaul that would give some of the nation's estimated 12 million illegal residents a path to citizenship.

Despite all the conciliatory talk, however, Senate Democrats' ascendancy appeared to seal the fate of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, whom Bush renominated to the post on Thursday.

Bolton, a lightning rod for controversy because of his abrasive neoconservative "America First" diplomacy, holds his position now only because Bush put him there in a 2005 recess appointment that will expire in January. Democrats had blocked the Senate from giving Bolton an up-or-down confirmation vote back then, and now they're stronger.

Upon Bush's resubmission of Bolton's nomination on Thursday, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., in line to be the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement saying, "I see no point in considering Mr. Bolton's nomination again."

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., who lost his bid for re-election on Tuesday, said he'd join Democrats in opposing Bolton's nomination before the Foreign Relations Committee during the lame-duck session of the expiring Congress, which begins next week. That should prevent the nomination from going to a floor vote. Republicans conceded that Bolton wouldn't be confirmed.

Republicans will move in the lame-duck session to confirm former CIA Director Robert Gates as Bush's new defense secretary, however, before they lose their majority. A senior aide to retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said confirmation hearings for Gates would begin the week of Dec. 4.

Bush gave congressional Republicans a long list of items on Thursday that he wants them to accomplish during the lame-duck session. Republicans plan to tackle routine government funding bills, Vietnam's trade status, an India civilian nuclear power agreement and expanded offshore oil drilling. GOP aides were skeptical that the lawmakers could pass the controversial terrorism surveillance legislation that Bush wants.

Democrats said their top priority upon taking power in January will be to pressure Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq. Reid has called for a bipartisan Iraq summit with Bush.

Reid and other Democrats also reiterated their plans to raise the minimum wage and expand health care and college access.

They also warned that Bush would be well-advised to confer with them next year about any judicial nominees, including future Supreme Court vacancies, or risk rejection. "Don't send us extreme candidates," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who's the second-ranking party leader.

For all their expectations, however, Senate Democrats conceded that their 51-49 majority won't be enough to pass controversial legislation. The Senate operates largely by consent and a 60-vote margin is needed to shut off endless debates, or filibusters, that a determined minority can wage to frustrate the majority.


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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