Party Leadership Elections Held in the House and Senate
After what proved to be a historic midterm-election cycle, returning members of the House and Senate were joined in Washington, D.C. this week by newly elected members to begin the process of organizing for the new 116th Congress. In the House, Republicans – who will make a return as the chamber’s minority party for the first time in nine years – held a closed-door meeting to select their leadership team for the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions.
As was widely anticipated, Republicans chose Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to serve as minority leader when the new Congress convenes in January. With Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) retiring at the end of 2018, McCarthy, who is the current House majority leader, was the presumptive choice to take over the helm of the GOP conference. In the end, McCarthy withstood a challenge from conservative Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH) for the right to serve as the party’s top leader, winning 159 votes to Jordan’s 43.
Assuming the number two spot in the House GOP leadership team will be Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA), who was elected unanimously by his Republican colleagues. As minority whip, Scalise will be responsible for leading his party’s vote-counting and communications network. Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) will take over the role of Republican conference chair, a position her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, once held more than three decades ago.
For their part, House Democrats will wait to cast leadership votes until after the Thanksgiving break. Current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the odds-on favorite to be selected as the new speaker of the House, though it remains unclear if one of her fellow Democrats will launch an official bid for the job. The top members of Pelosi’s current leadership team – Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who serves as minority whip, and Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the assistant minority leader – are vying to become majority leader and majority whip, respectively.
In the Senate, both parties selected this week their respective leaders for the new Congress. With Republicans maintaining control of the upper chamber, current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will continue to serve in that role for the next two years. Similarly, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will retain his position.
Republicans also selected Senator John Thune (R-SD), the current GOP conference chairman, to serve as majority whip. The job is currently held by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), who is subject to a term-limit rule imposed on most Republican leadership slots. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) will take over as conference chairman and Senator Roy Blunt will serve as policy committee chairman.
In a similar fashion, Senate Democrats voted to keep the rest of their leadership team intact. Accordingly, Dick Durbin (D-IL) will return as minority whip, Patty Murray (D-WA) will continue to serve as assistant Democratic leader, and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will maintain her position as chairwoman of the party’s policy and communications committee.