The fights for Congressional Leadership

Dateline: 22 November 2006

As expected, the new Minority Leader in the Senate is to be Mitch McConnell, a right wing master of Senate procedure who was number two to Bill Frist. Frist, of course, retired from the Senate to pursue Presidential ambitions. The Republican Whip will be Trent Lott, the GOP’s former Senate Leader, who defeated Lamar Alexander for the role by one vote.

The Majority Leader will be Harry Reid, who has led the Democrats for the past two years and was re-elected by the Democratic Caucus unopposed. Dick Durbin of Illinois remains his number two. These two men will – in practical terms – manage the Senate, though the most prestigious post, President Pro Tempore, will probably go to Robert Byrd of West Virginia. The post is mostly ceremonial, and often goes to the longest serving Senator on the Majority side, but it is theoretically fourth in line to the Presidency, and it remains a stain on the Democratic Party that they are about to install a former Klansman into this post. Byrd’s views on racial questions appear to have changed little, despite his protestations. Recently he twice used the word ‘nigger’ in an interview on CNN. In the light of this, it should be hard for Democrats to make anything of Lott’s return to a leadership role, after an exile caused by racially charged gaffe a few years ago. It should be, but it won’t.

In the House, both sides faced contentious leadership votes. Nancy Pelosi was unopposed to become the next Speaker, but the number two slot was bitterly fought between current Minority Whip, Steny Hoyer and Pelosi’s favored candidate, Jack Murtha. Hoyer triumphed, a clear slap in the face for the new Speaker, but a wise move by the Democratic caucus. They promised to clean up the corruption in DC. Elevating to the second highest office in the House Jack Murtha, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Abscam scandal, would have been the worst way to start such a campaign. Tom DeLay resigned from the same post, and then from the House, and the evidence against him is flimsier than that which stacks up against Murtha.

It was well known that outgoing Speaker, Denny Hastert, had no desire to become Minority Leader. His number two, John Boehner, takes on that role. Majority Whip, Roy Blunt moves smoothly into the Minority Whip position. This maintains the balance between the visionary follower of Newt Gingrich and the DeLayite vote counter as his deputy. It is not a bad team, and only a year old, but it is a shame the GOP passed up the opportunity to skip a generation and elect Mike Pence and John Shaddegg instead. Does no-one in the leadership bear the price for abysmal Congressional approval rates and decisive defeat at the polls? The voluntary retirements of Hastert and Frist hardly count as bloodletting.

The heavy defeat of the GOP’s insurgent wing in these leadership votes shows the party has no stomach for an internal fight. We have yet to see if it has the stomach to fight the Democrats.

Outside Congress, Howard Dean retains his role as Chair of the DNC while Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, an Hispanic confidant of both Bush brothers and a skilled fundraiser takes over the RNC.



Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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