WASHINGTON — Nibbling on birthday cake decorated with an outline of West Virginia, Senate Democrats Thursday elected that state's senior Democrat, Robert C. Byrd, to be the Senate majority leader in the 100th Congress, which convenes Jan. 6.
Byrd's 69th birthday coincided with his unanimous election in a party caucus, but the real numbers that counted Thursday were a frosting swirl just about where Charleston should have been on the cake that read "55-45"--the breakdown of Democratic and Republican seats in the new Senate.
As Democrats in the chamber were picking their new leadership team for the next two years, Republicans also caucused and unanimously elected Bob Dole of Kansas as the minority leader. Dole had been the majority leader for the last two years, when Republicans controlled the chamber by a 53-47 margin.
Promises Quick Action
Byrd, who had led Senate Democrats for a decade, vowed to confront many Administration policies quickly, declaring that American voters "sent a message to Washington" by returning the Senate to Democratic control after six years and reaffirming the Democrats' hold on the House.
"They want action in dealing with the problems that face this country: the trade crisis, the federal deficit, the rise in mediocrity in education, the job problems," he said.
Byrd also said that Democrats would rush their own legislative agenda to the floor before waiting for President Reagan to outline his spending and policy priorities for the coming year.
In addition to Byrd, Democrats elevated the entire leadership team that had led them as a minority party in the Senate to the same posts in the majority. California Sen. Alan Cranston, the minority whip, was elected to the post of majority whip, Byrd's chief deputy. Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye will continue to hold the No. 3 leadership spot as head of the party caucus.
Pro Tempore Post
Mississippi's John C. Stennis, who at 85 is the Senate's oldest member, was elected to the largely ceremonial post of president pro tempore, while Democrats honored Maine's George J. Mitchell--who spearheaded the party's successful drive to recapture the Senate--by naming him the deputy president pro tempore. Byrd named Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry to replace Mitchell as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
As expected, Republicans also reelected most of their present majority leadership team to equivalent minority posts. Wyoming Republican Alan K. Simpson was named the minority whip, while Colorado's William L. Armstrong will remain chairman of the policy committee and Rhode Island's John H. Chafee will stay on as chairman of the GOP conference.