WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans re-elected Mitch McConnell on Wednesday to be majority leader next year while Democrats picked Chuck Schumer to lead them, setting the chief actors as the chamber prepares for an agenda that will be dominated by Donald Trump and the GOP.
McConnell, 74, is a discreet but deadly master of the Senate’s legislative chess game. His role will be to steer GOP bills to the desk of a president whose name he barely spoke during a tumultuous campaign in which many Republicans viewed Trump and his incendiary comments on Muslims, veterans and others as political poison.
“It’s time to accept the results of the election, to lower the tone and to see what we can do together to make progress for the country,” McConnell, from Kentucky, told reporters Wednesday.
As Senate minority leader, Schumer will assume his weakened party’s most powerful remaining post as it struggles to define its role in a Republican-dominated government.
The New Yorker’s ascension from his No. 3 spot has been a virtual lock since last year, when he quickly cemented votes for the top job after current Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he’d retire. Most of each party’s leaders will remain in their posts next year, an ironic stability following an election that seemed to show a demand by voters for change.
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McConnell and Schumer faced no opposition at separate closed-door meetings. Later Wednesday, Schumer visited McConnell in his office, telling a reporter afterward: “First meeting. Working out things.”
Republicans will control the White House, House and Senate but their potential Achilles’ heel is the Senate, which they will dominate 52-48. Assuming Republicans don’t eliminate the rule allowing filibusters, Schumer should be able to keep the GOP from the 60 votes they’d need on some issues to break the procedural delays, potential leverage for bargains.
“Where we can work together we will,” Schumer told reporters about Trump, with whom he shares an affection for TV soundbites and sharp elbows. But Schumer said he’s also told the president-elect, “On issues where we disagree, you can expect a strong and tough fight.”
Schumer has mentioned infrastructure as an area of possible cooperation.
Many Democrats will feel pressure to back Republicans on other issues, too. Twenty-five of the 33 Senate seats up for 2018 re-election are held by Democrats and their two allied independents, including several from deeply Republican states like Montana and West Virginia, and they’ll have to find ways to appeal to constituents.
Underscoring Democrats’ effort to understand why last week’s election turned so sourly against them, Schumer announced a broad, 10-member leadership team. It ranged from liberals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to moderates like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.
“We need to be a party that speaks to and works on behalf of all Americans,” Schumer said.
The 65-year-old Brooklynite vaulted over No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois, who will remain in that slot. Schumer has been a savvy partisan combatant willing to strike compromises, such as on a 2013 bipartisan immigration overhaul that eventually died.
McConnell has been a coolly effective leader, steering his party through a long battle over a Supreme Court vacancy and Trump’s stormy presidential candidacy. McConnell distanced himself from Trump during the campaign, at times flatly refusing to discuss the race with reporters.
In what seemed like a show of independence, McConnell answered a question Wednesday about whether he backs Trump’s call for a five-year lobbying ban by former executive branch officials by saying the Senate will address “the real concerns of the American people.”
He cited overhauling the tax code and President Barack Obama’s health care law and approving a new justice and said the Senate won’t “relitigate what anybody on either side may have said during a very hotly contested presidential race.”
McConnell, who’s led Senate Republicans for a decade, has pushed a conservative agenda while cutting budget deals with President Barack Obama. And he enraged Democrats by refusing to let the Senate consider Obama’s nomination of federal judge Merrick Garland to fill a Supreme Court vacancy that occurred last February, which paid dividends when Trump won.
In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is on track to keep his job after Republicans endorsed him Wednesday by voice vote.
House Democrats postponed their leadership election until Nov. 30 after junior lawmakers demanded more time to digest the Election Day results, a warning shot at Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
In a letter seeking support, Pelosi told fellow Democrats they must be “a strong voice for hard-working families” and “unified, strategic and unwavering.” She said she is already backed by two-thirds of Democrats — more than enough to win.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Erica Werner, Mary Clare Jalonick, Donna Cassata and Richard Lardner contributed to this report.