Senate Democrats and Republicans elected their leaders for the 117th Congress on Tuesday, reaffirming support for the current top leadership while the question of who will be the Senate majority leader remains to be determined by runoff elections in Georgia in January.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who just won a seventh term, was unanimously reelected Republican leader. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was reelected Democratic leader by acclamation, as were the other members of the leadership team, according to aides who were present who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private session.
“We’re ready to get going, even though there’s some suspense about whether we’ll be in the majority or not, which will be answered in Georgia on January 5th,” McConnell said at a news conference with members of the GOP leadership Tuesday morning.
The looming question is whether McConnell will remain majority leader, with Republicans controlling the chamber as a counterweight to President-elect Joe Biden and House Democrats, who hold a slim majority.
On Tuesday, Republicans got a major boost in their effort to hold the majority as Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., was projected to win reelection, defeating Democrat Cal Cunningham.
“The voters have spoken and I respect their decision. While the results of this election suggest there remain deep political divisions in our state and nation, the more complete story of our country lies in what unites us,” Cunningham said in a statement in which he noted that he’d just called Tillis to congratulate him.
Republicans will have 49 seats to Democrats’ 48 while both parties await the results in Alaska, where Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, held the lead over independent Al Gross, who is supported by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The majority would come down to the Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia. One race pits Sen. David Perdue, a Republican, against Jon Ossoff, while appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, is trying to win the seat outright against Raphael Warnock.
If Democrats win those races, establishing a 50-50 tie, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would break the tie.
“It is time for us to turn the page on one of the most divisive and chaotic chapters in our history, and I am looking forward to leveraging the expertise our diverse caucus, working in a bipartisan fashion – but never compromising on our values – to improve the lives of American families,” Schumer said in a statement.
At a Senate Republican news conference Tuesday, McConnell dismissed concerns about President Donald Trump’s ongoing efforts to challenge the results of the presidential election, telling reporters that there’s “no reason for alarm.”
He made the remarks a day after he backed Trump’s legal challenges, saying that the president is “100 percent within his rights” to pursue recounts and litigation, though Trump has produced no evidence of widespread voting fraud.
“What it says about America is that until the electoral college votes, anyone who’s running for office can exhaust concerns about counting in any court of appropriate jurisdiction,” McConnell said when asked about GOP support for Trump’s efforts. “It’s not unusual. It should not be alarming. At some point here, we’ll find out, finally, who was certified in each of these states, and the electoral college will determine the winner, and that person will be sworn in on January 20th. No reason for alarm.”
McConnell also played down reports that Trump is seeking to block the Biden team’s transition efforts. According to administration officials, the White House has instructed senior government leaders to block cooperation with Biden’s transition team, escalating a standoff that threatens to impede the transfer of power and prompting the Biden team to consider legal action.
“I don’t think anything that’s occurred so far interrupts an ordinary process of moving through the various steps that I indicated and allowing – if there is a new administration – it to work through the transition. All of these steps will be taken at the appropriate time,” McConnell said.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., another member of Senate GOP leadership, said at Tuesday’s news conference that Trump actually may have won the election – a shift from two days earlier, when Blunt said the president’s legal challenges were not likely to change the result.
“Virtually every predictor of what was going to happen in the elections was wrong,” Blunt, a former Missouri secretary of state, said Tuesday. “You know, the president wasn’t defeated by huge numbers. In fact, he may not have been defeated at all.”
On Sunday, in an interview on ABC News’s “This Week,” Blunt acknowledged that Trump was unlikely to prevail.
“Seems unlikely that any changes could be big enough to make a difference,” Blunt said. “But this is a close election, and we need to acknowledge that.”
In the leadership elections, Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., joined the top ranks of their party in the chamber.
The other Senate Democratic leadership members include Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois, Assistant Leader Patty Murray of Washington, Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Conference Vice Chairs Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mark Warner of Virginia, Steering Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Outreach Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., DPCC Vice Chairman Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Conference Secretary Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.
Schumer named Booker vice chairman of the DPCC and Cortez Masto vice chair of outreach.
Scott was named chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, succeeding Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind.
The other members of Senate Republican leadership include Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota, Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming, Republican Policy Committee Chairman Blunt and Republican Conference Vice Chairman Joni Ernst of Iowa.