As Congress picks leaders, Mitch McConnell keeps top Senate post
Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters (screen grab)

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer were re-elected on Wednesday to the top jobs in the U.S. Senate, as expected, with lawmakers still fresh from last week’s elections and choosing their party chieftains ahead of the start of a new Congress in January.

The only real question marks about who will lead on Capitol Hill in 2019-2020 were in the House of Representatives, where the front-runners from both parties faced challenges.

The most watched leadership race is Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the job of House speaker, a role she had from 2007 to 2011, when she was the first woman in that post.

So far, she has no clear opponent, but some Democrats are dissatisfied with Pelosi. Their struggle over selecting a new speaker still has two weeks to play out.

In the Senate, McConnell, 76, has been the Republicans’ leader since 2007. He became majority leader, the chamber’s top post, in 2015 when his party took control from the Democrats.

The Kentuckian has played hard ball with Democrats and largely stood by Republican President Donald Trump, although the two got off to a rocky start when Trump took office.

As leader, McConnell will manage Trump’s legislative agenda for the two years left in the president’s term. McConnell is married to Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao.

McConnell successfully guided two of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees to confirmation and passed a major tax cut bill through the Senate, although he failed in 2017 to fully repeal the “Obamacare” healthcare law, a major disappointment for Trump.

New York’s Schumer had also been expected to keep his job as leader of the Senate Democrats, who are again in the minority.

In the House, Republicans were set to hold an election for minority leader. California Representative Kevin McCarthy, whom Trump sometimes refers to as “my Kevin,” was seen as likely to win, although he is being challenged by Ohio’s Jim Jordan.

McCarthy is now House majority leader. Jordan is former chairman of a break-away conservative group known as the House Freedom Caucus. Trump has tried to insert himself into the House Republicans’ decision-making, according to Politico.

The Washington newspaper reported on Wednesday that the president has privately urged McCarthy to strike a deal with Jordan, perhaps to make the Ohioan the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. Under Democratic control, the panel is expected to launch numerous investigations of Trump.

Among Democrats, who seized a majority in the House from the Republicans in the Nov. 6 elections, a small but vocal group argues that Pelosi, 78, should step aside. She has made clear she wants the speaker’s gavel again. She has led the party in the House 16 years.

House Democrats will choose a party leader on Nov. 28 in a closed-door election. A separate election for speaker will follow in early January with all 435 House members - Democrats and Republicans - casting votes.

Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish