Senate Leadership Roles May Shift After Midterms

NPR's Michele Norris talks to Politico congressional correspondent Manu Raju about a possible shuffle in Senate leadership positions after the midterm election.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Democrats are more likely to maintain control of the Senate than the House. Even if they do, there's a possibility that they could be choosing a new Senate leader after the election. The current majority leader, Nevada's Harry Reid, is in the fight of his life against Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle. And even if Reid ekes out a victory, some of his Senate colleagues could challenge him for control.

Manu Raju is congressional correspondent for Politico, and he joins us now to talk about a possible shift in the Senate. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. MANU RAJU (Congressional Correspondent, Politico.com): Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Let's begin with Harry Reid and a couple of possible scenarios. If he loses, and if Democrats don't maintain control of the Senate, what happens? Is Jim DeMint of South Carolina first in line to replace him?

Mr. RAJU: No, most likely it's going to be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, current Republican leader. He's already locked up support. And so if Reid loses and Democrats lose control of the Senate, you're going to see McConnell become the most powerful man on Capitol Hill..

NORRIS: And you don't think that he'd be challenged? 'Cause there's this rumor...

Mr. RAJU: Very...

NORRIS: ...that DeMint might take him on.

Mr. RAJU: You know, a lot of people think that because of the way that DeMint has been positioning himself over the last year, in which he's challenged the party establishment supporting these Tea Party candidates in Republican primaries. But DeMint has said he supports McConnell. He's not going to challenge him.

And, you know, even if DeMint did, he wouldn't have the support. He's not particularly popular within the Republican Caucus.

NORRIS: If the Democrats do maintain control of the Senate, and if Harry Reid manages to win, it's still been widely reported that there are some hard-charging Democrats who are working quietly on the sort of sub-rosa campaign to possibly replace him.

Help us understand what's happening there. Who are we talking about?

Mr. RAJU: We're talking about Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democratic, Senate majority whip. And the number three Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York. Both men are seen as the possible successors to Reid. And incidentally, they're roommates on Capitol Hill, too. But, you know, they both would bring much different styles to the leadership table.

If Reid wins, both men say that they're not going to challenge him. But if he loses, I think you're going to see a very tightly contested race, something that we haven't seen in the Senate in about 15 years.

NORRIS: Durbin and Schumer say that they won't challenge him. Is it possible that Reid will give up the gavel if he wins?

Mr. RAJU: He says he's not going to. He says that he wants to serve six years as majority leader. Although, you know, there are rumors that he would, you know, if won he would be majority leader for this coming Congress. And then afterwards, he may step aside, particularly if Democrats lose control of the Senate in the 2012 elections - which is a very possible scenario, considering that there are double the number of seats that are Democratic that are up that cycle than Republicans. And Reid may decide, hey, it's not worth being minority leader. You never really know on Capitol Hill.

NORRIS: On Capitol Hill, what kind of backroom politicking and posturing is going on? Is it possible that Democrats, looking for someone to blame or concerned that Reid - even with his status on the Hill, is in the fight of his life - might be counseling him to consider other possibilities?

Mr. RAJU: I think that's an unlikely scenario 'cause the Senate is such a clubby place. And I think that they would want to keep some sort of continuity if they lost. I think what you're going to more likely see, if the Democrats lose control of the House, there's almost certainly going to be a leadership struggle to replace Nancy Pelosi who, of course, is the current speaker. And then if she were in the minority, she would have to consider whether to run for minority leader against Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who's the current House majority leader.

That is where there's a lot of posturing right now...

NORRIS: And a bit ambitious himself.

Mr. RAJU: That's right. And, you know, so I think that that's what the very likely scenario is. So in the Senate, it probably only will happen if Reid loses himself. And that would be quite a fight, and itll all happen in the backrooms of Capitol Hill.

NORRIS: Manu, help us out and remind us: When do the leadership elections take place?

Mr. RAJU: They would take place right after the elections, in the lame- duck session. That'll be the middle of November.

NORRIS: Good to talk to you. Thank you so much.

Mr. RAJU: Thanks for having me.

Manu Raju is a congressional correspondent for Politico.

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