The Democrats Now Have Their Chance
There could also be a showdown between Emanuel of Illinois and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the current chair of the Democratic Caucus, for the majority whip position. While Emanuel has not stated any leadership ambitions, some say he would be an ideal whip and should be rewarded for his chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Yet Clyburn, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, has seniority.
On the Republican side, there will be plenty of questions and blame to be shared. Outgoing House Majority Leader John Boehner and Speaker Dennis Hastert had their differences this fall over the Republican response to the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley. Boehner and Whip Roy Blount had been opponents for the leadership job earlier this year after Rep. Tom DeLay stepped down, but they had since mended fences. It's unclear what the Republican leadership will look like in the House, with some conservative sources reporting that Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the head of the 110-member Republican Study Committee and a powerful fiscal conservative, could run for minority leader. On Wednesday morning, Pence said: "Some will argue that we lost our majority because of scandals at home and challenges abroad. I say, we did not just lose our majority, we lost our way."
On the Senate side, with Majority Leader Bill Frist retiring, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky and majority whip, is very likely to win the top Republican leadership position. Former Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, though, could battle over who would be No. 2, because Rick Santorum, the Republican Conference chair who would most likely have sought the whip position, lost his Pennsylvania seat.
Whatever the leadership structure looks like and that'll be decided most likely by the middle of next week there already are some clear changes in committee structures. Powerful old Democrats such as Reps. John Dingell, Charlie Rangel, and Henry Waxman, who have spent 12 years as ranking minority members, are back as chairmen. Waxman, for example, has promised robust oversight of issues such as contracts awarded for Iraq reconstruction.
On some issues, like the environment, the results are mixed. While enviros are celebrating the defeat of Rep. Richard Pombo, they're mourning the loss of another powerful Republican: Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Chafee, like his father, was among the strongest environmental advocates in the Senate. During his re-election bid this year he had earned the endorsement of nearly every major green group, including the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters. He played a pivotal role from his seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Republicans held an 11-to-9 advantage. Chafee frequently voted with Democrats on such controversial issues as Bush's Clear Skies Act, which opponents say allowed more pollution into the air, and the Endangered Species Act rewrite. His vote deadlocked the committee at 10-10, which prevented the legislation from reaching the Senate floor.
"We owe him a lot," says Rodger Schlickeisen of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. "He's a champion for us." Schlickeisen says that if Republicans retain control of the Senate, the loss of Chafee is "the worst of both worlds." Chafee, perhaps the most pro-green Republican in the Senate, is likely to be replaced by someone far less in tune with the environmental movement. Analysts suspect Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski will assume his seat. "She is very bad on conservation issues," Schlickeisen says. That could mean more legislation flowing through the committee and being battled out on the Senate floor.
With Danielle Knight and Bret Schulte