McConnell, Reid switch Senate posts
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday elected Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to be majority leader of the new Senate in January, putting the longtime lawmaker in place as the party’s chief adversary to President Obama.
The onlt Kentuckian to serve as majority leader since Democrat Alben Barkley in the 1930s and 1940s, McConnell offered a possible preview of what Obama can expect from him over the next two years.
“I had maybe naively hoped the president would look at the results of the election and decide to come to the political center and do some business with us,” McConnell told reporters. “I still hope he does at some point, but the early signs are not good.”
McConnell’s ascension to majority leader was a unanimous coronation, but Senate Democrats voted for Harry Reid of Nevada to be minority leader in a tense, four-hour, closed-door meeting in the Old Senate Chamber. Several Democrats refused to support his re-election.
A chastened Reid emerged from the meeting and announced he had expanded his leadership team by adding liberal favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. to the party’s messaging operation.
“What do I expect her to do?” Reid said. “I expect her to be Elizabeth Warren.”
The Democratic meeting was a venting session over what went wrong in the Nov. 4 elections and what direction the party will take in the Senate.
“One of the reasons it was one of the longer caucuses we’ve ever had was that we were honest with each other, straightforward and clear about the message the voters sent,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
Before finally getting the nod from his party in a secret ballot, Reid heard blunt comments from his fellow Democrats.
Twenty-eight of the Senate’s 53 Democrats and two Independents spoke during the meeting. At least five senators — Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Warner of Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota —declined to vote for Reid, who was running unopposed.
“To me, when you have an election like this, common sense tells me you need to change things,” McCaskill said. “I think we’re going to have a process of introspection.”
Manchin and other unidentified Democrats asked colleagues for a one-week delay in the leadership vote to assess why the party was so soundly defeated in last week’s elections.
“I do not vote to accept the leadership team we have now,” Manchin told reporters after the meeting. “We asked for a week to have an open discussion on everything that went wrong, evaluate what went wrong — messaging, the lack of messaging — and move forward.”