WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Chuck Schumer was unanimously elected Thursday to another term as Democratic leader in the Senate, leading a strengthened 51-seat majority for a new era of divided government in Congress intent on “getting things done” for the country.
Senate Democrats met behind closed doors on Capitol Hill to choose their leadership team for the new Congress that begins in January. The session was fast and upbeat, with no challengers. Unlike the contested Republican election, Democratic leaders were selected by acclamation. Applause was heard in the halls.
“We had a great unified meeting, where we were both very happy with what we were able to accomplish in the last Congress and to set aspirations – strong aspirations – that we will achieve equally in the next couple of years,” Schumer said later, flanked from the team of twelve members.
As Senate Majority Leader, Schumer proved to be a surprisingly consistent, if frenetic, force in one of the most significant sessions of Congress. But with Republicans taking control of the House and facing President Joe Biden in the new year, it will be a new challenge for Schumer in uniformed Washington.
The Brooklyn-born Schumer took the top position in the weeks following the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack, and led his party through the COVID-19 crisis and unexpected legislative outcomes, many of them bipartisan. A former campaign chief, he steered the party to a majority and expanded it to 51 seats with Sen. Raphael Warnock’s special election victory Tuesday in Georgia.
Senate Democrats have filled their leadership team with both new and returning figures.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois was elected to another term in second place as a whip Democrat. Third position went to Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. And Senator Patty Murray of Washington has been named president pro tempore of the Senate and she faces a Senate vote in the new year for her position. This would make her third in the presidential line of succession after the vice president and the speaker of the house.
Warnock received a rousing applause as he entered closed Thursdays. His victory, along with the election of Democrat John Fetterman, who flipped a GOP-held seat in Pennsylvania, expands Democrats’ slim 50-50 hold in the Senate to a majority of 51 seats in January. Fetterman and the other newly elected Democrats joined Thursday’s vote.
“Obviously, Senator Warnock’s arrival gives all of us a rebound in our pace, and it’s an opportunity to build on what we’ve been doing,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the finance committee, exiting the session.
Schumer’s reelection places two New Yorkers at the top of the Democratic leadership in Congress, along with Rep. Hakeem Jefferies, the incoming House minority leader. Jeffries was elected to lead the Democrats following Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to step down next year.
House Republicans nominated GOP leader Kevin McCarthy as the new Speaker of the House, but he’s struggling to rack up the 218 votes he’ll need when he goes before the entire House for the speaker’s vote in January.
Senate Republicans have already picked their team, putting Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on course to become the longest-serving party leader in the House.
McConnell fended off a rare challenge from Florida GOP Senator Rick Scott, the party’s campaign boss, who failed to win back a Senate majority for Republicans.
Biden will face a divided Congress in the new year, which ushers in an era of potentially acute partisan tensions and oversight investigations, but also creates the possibility of bipartisanship.
Schumer said later that he will lead a majority of the 51 Senate seats in much the same way he has this year, aiming to “get things done for the American people.”
He reiterated a call he has publicly made to Republicans in Congress to step past Donald Trump, the former president, and work with Democrats to realize bipartisan priorities with Biden.
“We want to keep this chamber as active and alive and engaged as possible,” Schumer said in a speech to the Senate.
“I make a clear appeal to my fellow Republicans: Reject MAGA and work with us,” he said, referring to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Bipartisanship has been elusive in recent years, but Schumer has been able to steer senators toward infrastructure deals, a package of computer chips, and other measures that have found support from both sides, particularly as some Republicans work to surpass Trump, the former president.
Schumer declined to outline priorities for the next term as Democrats and Republicans prepare to hold separate private retreats in the new year to set their agendas.
“We are very proud of what we were able to accomplish in the 117th (Congress) and we look forward to the 118th – the challenges will be there,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.