WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are once again claiming a majority in the Senate, but much of the chamber’s focus Tuesday is on the top Republican as Mitch McConnell becomes the longest-serving Senate leader in history.
McConnell, 80, surpassed Montana Sen. Mike Mansfield’s record of 16 years as party leader when the Senate convened at noon to start the new Congress. While the Kentucky Republican acknowledged he would rather his own party take charge — “the majority is better,” he says frequently — he celebrated his own personal milestone with a Senate speech looking back at the leaders parties and their different styles over the decades.
And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., cemented his own legacy after winning a second term as leader and also being sworn in as New York’s longest-serving senator. Democrats will enter the new Congress with a 51-49 majority, with new Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema receiving her committee assignments from Democrats.
The celebratory Senate debates stood in stark contrast to the new Republican House majority across the Capitol, where Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is vying to become president amid contentious infighting in his own party. McConnell, his party’s leader since 2007, easily dismissed a similar challenge from within after November’s midterms and, like Schumer, is entering the new year with strong support from his caucus.
Similar to President Joe Biden, Schumer and McConnell open the year by pledging to work across the aisle – and all three will have to find ways to work with the new GOP House majority to keep the government going. working. McConnell will make a rare appearance with Biden in his home state of Kentucky this week to highlight nearly $1 trillion in infrastructure spending lawmakers approved on a bipartisan basis in 2021.
Claiming his party’s majority after the senators were sworn in, Schumer said the party differences “do not absolve either side of the need to work together when the good of the country is at stake.”
“Whoever ends up becoming Speaker of the House, I hope they find a way to work productively with us this Congress,” Schumer said, as McCarthy failed to secure a majority in the rounds of ballot across the Capitol.
Praising the tenure of Mansfield, a Democrat who led his party from 1961 to 1977, the ever-restrained McConnell hinted in his speech at his own long-term strategy — a contrast to the bombshell and mayhem across the Capitol.
“There have been leaders who have achieved the position through low-key, behind-the-scenes styles; who preferred to focus on serving their colleagues rather than dominating them,” McConnell said, and thus Senator Michael Joseph Mansfield of Montana became the longest-serving Senate leader in American history until ‘see you this morning’.
Without directly comparing himself to Mansfield, McConnell seemed to draw similarities between their styles, saying that Mansfield knew how to run the Senate and “was content with the modest task of keeping the machinery of the Senate oiled” while other senators with ” stronger and clearer visions championed particular outcomes.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate was sworn in to seven new members, five Republicans and two Democrats. Unlike in the House, where the swearing-in was overshadowed by the adversarial struggle for the Speaker’s chair, the mood was jovial in the Senate. Family, friends and predecessors watched as these freshmen, along with their new colleagues who were re-elected, were sworn in under Vice President Kamala Harris.
Senators cheered as Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat and Iraq War veteran who lost both her legs when her helicopter was shot down in 2004, walked down the center aisle of the Senate to be sworn in instead of using his wheelchair – leaning on his Illinois colleague, Sen. Dick Durbin, for his support. Former Republican Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska accompanied his daughter, newly re-elected Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, and kissed her after she was sworn in. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, stood behind newly elected Republican Sen. JD Vance of Ohio in a rare display of bipartisanship on swearing-in day.
John Fetterman, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is the only new senator to overturn party control of his seat, after winning a vacant seat held by retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey. The other six new senators replace all outgoing members of the same party.
The new Republican senators are Ted Budd from North Carolina, Katie Britt from Alabama, Markwayne Mullin from Oklahoma, Eric Schmitt from Missouri and Vance from Ohio.
Vermont’s Peter Welch is the only other new Democrat, replacing Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is retiring after nearly five decades in office. “I can’t wait to get to work,” Welch said as he entered the Senate floor to be sworn in.
Washington Senator Patty Murray made her own history by replacing Leahy as the first acting female Senator. This position is held by the most senior member of the majority party and is third in line after the presidency.
“I am honored to officially become President Pro Tempore of the Senate today,” Murray tweeted after taking the oath, with Leahy standing behind her. “I haven’t lost the importance of what it means to be the first woman to hold this position. This is another sign that slowly but surely Congress is becoming more like America.
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.
Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press