As the 118th United States Congress convenes for the first time on Tuesday, its upper chamber is marking a record broken by Senator Mitch McConnell, who has become the longest-serving Senate leader in history.
McConnell, an 80-year-old Republican from Kentucky, has surpassed the late Democratic Senator Mike Mansfield’s record of 16 years. McConnell has served as Republican party leader in the Senate since 2007.
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Tuesday’s milestone in the Senate comes in stark contrast to the drama unfolding in the House of Representatives, where McConnell’s counterpart — top Republican Kevin McCarthy — faces opposition within his own party to his bid to become House Speaker.
By the end of the Congressional session on Tuesday, McCarthy had failed to rally enough support in three separate votes, leaving the position of Speaker unclaimed.
McConnell, likewise, encountered opposition when he mounted a bid to be reelected to his leadership post in November. But he handily overcame a challenge from Florida Senator Rick Scott, scooping up 37 Republican votes, enough to trounce the 10 votes in favour of Scott.
In the 118th Congress, McConnell returns to his position as minority leader, after the Democrats thwarted a “red wave” in last November’s midterm elections. They retained a slender majority in the 100-seat Senate, thanks to wins in key states like Georgia, where Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock retained his seat in a December run-off.
Another incumbent fresh from a midterm victory was Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York, who had a record of his own to break. The Senate majority leader, Schumer became the longest-serving senator for his state on Tuesday, as Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the swearing-in ceremony.
The ceremony was also a chance to welcome seven new members to the Senate floor: two Democrats and five Republicans. One of those newcomers was Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, a Democrat and the only candidate to flip a Senate seat in the 2022 midterms.
The seat was left vacant after Republican Senator Pat Toomey announced his retirement, sparking a hotly anticipated race between Fetterman and Republican nominee Mehmet Oz, a TV personality backed by former President Donald Trump.
The other new Senators included Vermont’s Peter Welch, North Carolina’s Ted Budd, Oklahoma’s Markwayne Mullin, Missouri’s Eric Schmitt, Ohio’s JD Vance and Alabama’s Katie Britt, the first woman from her state elected to the chamber.
Washington Democrat Patty Murray made history as well, as she became the first woman ever to serve as Senate’s president pro tempore. The role allows Murray to preside over the Senate in the absence of the vice president and it also puts her third in line to the presidency, behind the vice president and House speaker.
With Arizona independent Kyrsten Sinema receiving committee assignments from the Democrats, the party retains a narrow 51-to-49 majority over the Senate.
The chamber holds the power to approve or reject presidential nominees to key executive and judicial posts. And already, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has resubmitted 85 nominations that failed to pass the previous Senate.
They include Biden’s nominee for the ambassadorship to India, Eric Garcetti. While serving as mayor of Los Angeles, Garcetti faced accusations that he ignored complaints of sexual harassment against an aide. But his nomination has yet to receive a full vote before the Senate.