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McConnell Elected To Lead Senate GOP; Boehner, Reid Return To Party Posts


Fellow Republicans in the Senate's tapped Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell to once again lead their caucus. But this time, come January, he's the Senate's new majority leader. Senate Democrats reelected Harry Reid as their leader and the House Republicans reelected John Boehner to lead them. And with us from the Capitol to explain why all this matters, NPR's Ailsa Chang and Juana Summers. Hey there, girls.



CORNISH: So Ailsa, let's start in the Senate - big changes there in terms of which party will be in charge. But in terms of who is leading each party, not so much, right?

CHANG: No, not so much. It was a foregone conclusion that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell would be reelected. And that's that thing, despite the shakeup during this whole midterm election, you know, control switching in the Senate, Republicans growing their majority in the House, the people at the very top of it all stayed constant in both chambers in both parties. It's actually quite rare for leaders to get toppled by challengers in these leadership elections. Anyway, so McConnell apparently got a standing ovation, was elected unanimously while Reid actually got some no votes - a handful of them - mainly from red states. He didn't face a challenger, but Claire McCaskill of Missouri said there was some consternation about him in the room as Senators got up to speak. She was one of the no votes.


SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: This is about perception. It's not about reality. It's about the perception that we need to change things. And it's just that simple; it's just simple common sense.

CHANG: There were some changes in leadership. A couple of Democrats - two women - were newly elevated. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will be a liaison to the liberal wing of the party, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota will be on the steering committee to work with business groups.

CORNISH: Juana, in the House, Republicans have reelected speaker John Boehner to lead their caucus for another two years. Of course, he actually has to be formally elected speaker in January. But people are always watching for challengers, right, or potential no votes? Were there any surprises?

SUMMERS: That's absolutely right. If you member when John Boehner went for a vote in front of the whole House of Representatives, there were about 12 members of his own party who either decided, you know, not to vote for him or to vote someone else. That didn't really seem to be the case here. I had talked to some Republicans who were in the room for this closed-door vote, and, you know, they said that Boehner got the overwhelming support of his caucus. There were a couple of people who didn't vote for him, not a lot of chatter quite yet about who those people were. But overwhelmingly, he does have the backing of the Republican Party, despite the fact that this has been a year of handwringing about what that party looks like and what the make-up of it would be after the November election.

CORNISH: Juana, sticking with the House for a second, Democrats will vote on their leadership next week. But it seems that their current leader Nancy Pelosi is hearing some rumblings of impatience, maybe? What exactly are you hearing?

SUMMERS: That's right. She is running unchallenged to continue leading House Democrats. But earlier today, reporters asked her, you know, if she would step down after losses in the midterm elections. And when she heard those questions, she suggested that there was a double standard in how she's been treated versus how her male counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has been treated.


CONGRESSMAN NANCY PELOSI: But it just is interesting as a woman to see how many times that question is asked of a woman and how many times that question is never asked of Mitch McConnell.

SUMMERS: Pelosi went on to say that she's going to be in this job as long as the members of her party want her to be there, or as long as there's a reason to be there. But she also said that her life and her identity don't depend on being the minority leader and leading Democrats in the House.

CORNISH: All right, so to get out of elections for a bit, I want to talk about substance because Elsa, we're hearing the president may take some action on immigration as early as next week. Any reaction from Republican leaders on that prospect?

CHANG: Yes. First of all, John Boehner's said that they are going to fight the president tooth and nail on this and that all options are on the table. There's talk that maybe the Republicans should use the upcoming spending bill, which needs to be passed by December 11, as leverage against the president. Boehner did not rule that out. But Senator McConnell earlier today made it very clear there will not be a government shutdown or any threat to default on the debt, even if the president does go forward with this. That said, McConnell basically said that President Obama needs a reality check if he really wants to reform immigration for the long haul, he needs to go through the legislative branch.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: His executive actions are not permanent changes. You know, they won't necessarily be there under the next president. If he really wants to improve the immigration system we have in this country, he is stuck with a Congress that he doesn't like.

CHANG: And both McConnell and Boehner have said that executive actions on immigration will only make it harder for the new Congress and the president to work together on other items. They've said it in all kinds of ways that he'd be poisoning the well or that he'd be waving a red flag in front of a bull. Basically, that he would be damaging relations with Congress if he moves forward on this.

CORNISH: That NPR's Ailsa Chang, following developments in the Senate. Thanks so much, Ailsa.

CHANG: You're welcome.

CORNISH: And Juana Summers at the Capitol following the House. Thank you, Juana.

SUMMERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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