Senate Dems ready for new leader, GOP staying with McConnell
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Democrats are turning to Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Brooklyn-bred partisan infighter with a pragmatic streak, to steer them into the Donald Trump era. Republicans are sticking with the genteel Kentuckian, Sen. Mitch McConnell, who lacks Schumer's instinct for soundbites but has been a brutally effective legislative tactician.
Senate Democrats and Republicans are meeting separately Wednesday to pick their leaders for the Congress that convenes in January. Their selections of Schumer, from New York, and McConnell are expected to produce little drama.
That's the opposite of the House, where both parties' leadership elections have been more theatrical.
There, Republicans voted Tuesday to re-nominate Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., after recalcitrant conservatives and Trump backers upset by Ryan's frigid campaign-season treatment of Trump fell into line. Democrats postponed their leadership election until Nov. 30 after junior lawmakers demanded more time to digest the party's disappointing Election Day showing, a warning shot at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
McConnell opened the Senate's first session of the lame-duck Congress calling for unity.
"We're not Democrats first. We're not Republicans first. We are Americans first," said McConnell, who early in Barack Obama's presidency said his goal was to limit him to one term.
Schumer, 65, has been No. 3 Senate Democratic leader and is a confidante of Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., departing after a three-decade career in the chamber. Schumer has a history of being a savvy partisan combatant willing to strike compromises, such as on a 2013 bipartisan immigration overhaul that ended up dying.
Schumer is vaulting past No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois and will lead Democrats' last line of defense against the Trump White House and GOP-controlled House. Senate Democrats -- outnumbered 52-48, including two independents who back Democrats -- could prevent McConnell from getting the 60 votes he'll need on some important issues.
Schumer has said he'll seek opportunities to work with Trump but will face pressure from disappointed Democratic activists to adopt a hard line. It's unclear how he'll balance the demands of progressive Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., against red-state senators facing re-election in 2018 and needing protection from politically damaging votes.
McConnell, 74, was Senate minority leader for eight years before the GOP took control of the chamber for 2015 and 2016. He's widely backed among Republicans.
He's pushed a conservative agenda while cutting budget deals with the Obama administration, and boldly refused to let the Senate consider Obama's nomination of federal judge Merrick Garland to fill a Supreme Court vacancy that occurred last February. That move paid dividends when Trump was elected.
On Tuesday, House Republicans re-nominated Ryan by unanimous voice vote.
Ryan will need 218 votes -- a majority -- to be approved when the full, new House convenes Jan. 3. With the GOP on target to have 241 seats next year, Ryan can afford just 23 defectors, but many Republicans expect Ryan to be safe in the GOP afterglow of Trump's win.
Aiding Ryan: Support from Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, which Ryan and others underscored to Republican lawmakers before they voted.
"The momentum is with us," Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said in an interview after nominating Ryan during Tuesday's closed-door meeting. "The last thing we need is to distract attention right now with a leadership fight. We're all pulling in the same direction."
Mulvaney is in the tea party-leaning House Freedom Caucus, which has frequently rebelled against GOP leaders.
Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said that while he expected Ryan to be elected speaker, "we'll see what happens" during the lame-duck session with Ryan's handling of spending bills and rules giving rank-and-file lawmakers more power.
At a meeting of House Democrats Tuesday, Pelosi told her colleagues "we've been through hell" with the election and that Democrats should draw contrasts with Trump, according to an aide in the room.
But all were not happy.
"Everything's not good. Business as usual is not going to work," said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., among those who pushed for the delayed leadership vote.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.