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Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell reelected as Senate leaders

The votes, mostly a formality, reinstate Harry Reid as majority leader for a third straight Congress and Mitch McConnell, who was not challenged by conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, as leader of the minority.

November 16, 2010|By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Both parties have reelected their Senate leaders for the 112th Congress, with Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell retaining their posts as majority and minority leaders.

The Senate leadership votes were largely a formality, unlike the vote to come Wednesday in the House Democratic caucus. Reid, after surviving a bitter reelection battle in Nevada, returns as Senate majority leader for the third straight Congress; he has led Democrats for the last six years.

There had been speculation that McConnell, the party's leader since 2007, could face a challenge within his party from Jim DeMint, a conservative South Carolina senator who has emerged as a leader within the "tea party" movement. McConnell's decision to announce Monday that he would support DeMint's push for an earmark ban in the new Congress represents the power DeMint holds in the party.

In a gesture meant to symbolize the Republicans' unity, McConnell was nominated by both Sen. John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, and Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, an emerging star among the new resurgent conservatives. The nomination was approved by acclamation.

Also retaining their positions in the GOP are Minority Whip Jon Kyl, Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, and Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn.

Had Reid lost his reelection bid, there could have been a spirited battle to lead the Democratic caucus. Instead, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin remains majority whip, and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, also reelected this month, continues as conference secretary.

Reid did appoint New York Sen. Chuck Schumer as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, where he will have a larger role helping to formulate the party's message. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow will be that committee's vice chair, and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich joins the leadership as chairman of the caucus' Steering and Outreach Committee.

"We reach our hands out to Republicans," Reid said after the vote. "The American people elected us to get along. … It's not the Democratic way or the highway. It's not the Republican way or the highway. The American people want us to work together."

Democrats have not yet found a senator willing to hold the post of Senate Campaign Committee chair, a challenging role heading into the 2012 elections, when the party has to defend 21 seats.

Each party in the House will hold leadership elections Wednesday. Republicans are set to vote for Ohio Rep. John Boehner as the new speaker of the House, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor as majority leader and Jeb Hensarling as conference chair.

Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to win her race to serve as minority leader in the new Congress, though a small group of moderate and conservative Democrats have said they would oppose her election. Pelosi has arranged a compromise that will allow Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, currently the majority leader, and South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, currently majority whip, to remain in order as second- and third-ranking Democrats; each had announced their candidacy for minority whip.

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