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Republicans pick leaders for US Senate, House

November 13, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the new U.S. Congress convenes in January, one of the most powerful people in Washington will be Mitch McConnell, the next Senate majority leader.

McConnell, 72, was chosen at a closed-door meeting of the party rank and file, a Senate Republican official said Thursday. McConnell’s ascension comes after Republicans swept to a majority in the Senate in last week’s elections, leaving them with at least 53 seats in the 100-seat chamber and hoping for another in a Louisiana runoff election Dec. 6.

McConnell will set the agenda in the Senate, which Republicans will control for the first time in eight years. Along with Republican John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, McConnell will decide what legislation is sent to the White House in the final two years of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

Democrats have assailed him in recent campaigns as a guardian of gridlock for his opposition to nearly all of Obama’s initiatives. But he also brokered bipartisan deals that ended last year’s government shutdown and averted a 2011 federal default.

McConnell, who was re-elected to his Senate seat last week, is a conservative and does not have much charisma. But his 30 years in the Senate have made him a masterful political tactician. One of his challenges will be keeping in line conservative tea party-aligned Republicans who would like to see him take more hard-line positions.

Neither McConnell nor Boehner faced public opposition on the eve of Thursday’s party elections in closed door meetings.

Boehner, 65, is line to become leader of the House for a third term, also one of the pre-eminent positions in Washington. Like McConnell, his years in the lower chamber have made him skilled in legislative maneuvering and he also has had difficulties in the past keeping the more conservative Republican members of the House in line.

The Republicans also padded their majority in the 435-member House, where a handful of races remain unresolved. Republicans are on track to equal or eclipse the 246 seats they won in 1946, a figure that stands as a post-World War II high.

Despite sizable election losses, Democrats appeared ready to hand their own leaders another two years at the helm, postponing a generational change that appears not far in the future.

Democrats elected Sen. Harry Reid, a few weeks shy of his 75th birthday, the Senate minority leader in the new Congress. At least four Democrats voted against him.

Reid announced that Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a favorite of liberals, would join his leadership team, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, 74, is expected to be elected to a new term as House Democratic leader when the rank-and-file meets next week. She was speaker for four years when Democrats held the majority, and has served as minority leader for eight.

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