WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won election by fellow Republicans on Thursday to become Senate majority leader when the new Congress convenes in January, fulfilling a long-held ambition.
A Senate Republican official said McConnell, 72 was chosen by acclamation at a closed-door meeting of the rank and file.
As majority leader, McConnell will set the Senate’s agenda. Along with House Speaker John Boehner, he will decide what legislation is sent to the White House in the final two years of President Barack Obama’s term.
McConnell was elected to a sixth Senate term last week in elections in which Republicans gained a majority for the first time in eight years.
He will formally assume his duties as majority leader in January. Democrats have assailed him in recent campaigns as a guardian of gridlock for his opposition to nearly all of President Barack Obama’s initiatives. At the same time, decorations in his office in the Capitol include two paintings and a bust of Henry Clay, a 19th century Kentuckian known as the Great Compromiser who favored government development of roads and bridges in a young America.
Senate Republicans had only one contested leadership race, and selected Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi to chair the party’s campaign committee for the 2016 elections. He defeated Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.
Neither Republican leader faced public opposition on the eve of Thursday’s party elections in closed door meetings. If the sessions were celebratory occasions for Republicans, they were less than that for Democrats, who took a pounding in the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
After eight years in the minority, Senate Republicans picked up at least eight seats from Democrats and are still hoping for a ninth in a Louisiana runoff set for Dec. 6.
The party also padded its majority in the House, where a handful of races remain unresolved. Republicans are on track to equal or eclipse the 246 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.
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, a few weeks shy of his 75th birthday, won re-election as the leader of Senate Democrats to become minority leader in the new Congress. At least four Democrats voted against him: Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia, who had a scare last week before narrowly winning a second term.
McCaskill faulted Reid for failing to open up floor debates and staging votes that were destined to fail but win political points.
Reid announced that Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a favorite of liberals, would join his leadership team, along with Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. At the same time. Sen. John Tester, a second-term moderate from Montana, became head of the party’s campaign organization for 2016.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, 74, is expected to be elected to a new term as House Democratic leader when the rank-and-file meets next week. She first won her post a dozen years ago and is a prodigious fundraiser for her party. She was speaker for four years when Democrats held the majority, and has served as minority leader for eight.