WASHINGTON — Ending two days of uncertainty, Republican Sens. George Allen in Virginia and Conrad Burns in Montana conceded defeat Thursday, giving Democrats control of both branches of Congress for the first time in 12 years.
Control of the Senate had hung in the balance while the vote counts were completed in the two states. But both Republicans acknowledged Thursday that the final totals would not change the outcome.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday November 13, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Jon Tester: A photo caption in Section A on Friday misspelled incoming Montana Sen. Jon Tester's first name as John.
Burns conceded to challenger Jon Tester early in the day, turning all eyes to Virginia, where election workers were tallying ballots and Allen was trailing Democrat Jim Webb by less than half a percentage point. But Allen, who had sounded a defiant note on election night, changed his tune Thursday, saying he would forgo a recount to avoid increasing acrimony in an already toxic political environment.
The day's events sealed a change that began Tuesday, when voters turned out in record numbers to express anger over the protracted war in Iraq and allegations of congressional corruption.
It also opened a new era of divided government, with the legislative branch in the control of one party and the executive in the control of the other -- an alignment that historically has frustrated both.
At the White House, President Bush ushered out the old guard, breakfasting with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). The tone of the meeting, spokesman Tony Snow said, was one of resignation: "It is what it is."
Bush then ushered in the new guard, lunching with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the presumed new speaker, and her deputy, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). Asked what was on the menu, White House Counselor Dan Bartlett quipped to CBS: "For the president, it's probably a bit of crow."
And as Republicans came to terms with the political realignment in Washington, party officials confirmed Thursday that Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman -- an acolyte of Bush strategist Karl Rove and a chief engineer of the GOP political machinery for the last six years -- would step aside after his term ends in January.
The Bush-Pelosi meeting was a kind of detente in the partisan battle the two have waged for much of the president's six years in office. The two leaders expressed confidence that they could cooperate, even as they acknowledged deep differences over policy and wounded feelings from the hard-fought campaign.
"The elections are now behind us, and the congresswoman's party won," Bush said in the Oval Office as he concluded his meeting with Pelosi, who will take charge of the House in January. "But the challenges still remain. And therefore, we're going to work together to address those challenges in a constructive way."
Pelosi, sitting in an armchair across from the president, said: "We've made history. Now we have to make progress. And I look forward to working with the president to do just that."
Allen was conciliatory in conceding that he had lost his Senate seat.
"In this season, the people of Virginia -- who I also call the owners of the government -- they have spoken. And I respect their decision," Allen said.
"I do not wish to cause more rancor by protracted litigation, which would, in my judgment, not alter the results. I see no good purpose served by continuously and needlessly expending money and causing any more personal animosity."
Webb thanked Allen for being "very gracious," but he tossed out a rhetorical challenge to Bush: "I would like to also today call on our president to publicly denounce the campaign tactics that have divided us rather than brought us together. This was ... in many ways an unnecessarily brutal campaign. And I think it's hurting the country."
On Capitol Hill, with the building's white dome as a backdrop, Senate Democrats held an afternoon victory rally dotted with American flags and marked by chants of "Harry, Harry, Harry," for Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
"The election's over. It's time for a change," said Reid, who is expected to become majority leader.
But even at their moment of triumph, the leaders acknowledged that because they hold the narrowest of majorities in the Senate -- 51 Democrats and independents to 49 Republicans -- they will need to work closely with the GOP if they want to pass anything in the chamber, where the minority party has broad powers to block legislation.
"Make no mistake about it. Our joy today will vanish if we can't produce for the American people," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who headed the Democrats' Senate campaign committee. "We will have to work hard, in a bipartisan way. We will have to push aside the special interests and always keep our eye on the average American family. If we can do that, we will stay a majority for a generation. And that is what we aim to do."