WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined an aggressive agenda for the next two years after he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) won re-election to their leadership posts in closed-door votes by their party caucuses Wednesday.
Schumer said Democrats, who will control the House next year, will fight to lower health care prices and protect coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, negotiate a major federal investment in infrastructure work and pass ethics and campaign finance laws.
“We hope our colleagues in the House will have success in passing bills like this. We will be relentless here in the Senate in pressuring Senator McConnell to put them on the floor or pay the consequences," Schumer said.
Schumer said a priority is to pass bills to protect special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and to conduct oversight of the Trump administration, which he called "the most ethically challenged in history.”
McConnell called for bipartisanship and working with Democrats, but he disagreed with Democrats' top priorities, saying he sees no need for a bill to protect Mueller'sprobe and that he opposes a large federal investment in infrastructure.
"We're confident we're going to have 53 Republican senators to set the agenda next year, to continue, obviously, with our top priority, which is the confirmation of lifetime appointments to the judiciary," McConnell said.
McConnell blocked a Mueller protection bill proposed Wednesday afternoon by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).
"I think I can pretty safely say Republicans are not interested in doing a $900 billion [infrastructure] stimulus, which we did at the beginning of the Obama era," McConnell said. "So the question is: How are you going to pay for it?"
House Republicans on Wednesday voted 159-43 to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to be the House minority leader, rejecting a challenge from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif,), the current minority leader, is making a major push to regain the gavel as House speaker, a position she held as the first woman from 2007 to 2010. House Democrats are expected to vote on House Speaker after Thanksgiving, and the entire House will vote on the post in January.
Looking to nail down needed Democratic votes, Pelosi met Wednesday with the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus, which promotes cooperation, on its demands to give more power to members to move bills through the House. Later, she said she would work with the caucus on rules to “break the gridlock.”
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), the caucus vice chairman, said, “It’s a good step forward, but there is a lot of work that has to be done to hash out the details.”
In their caucus election, Senate Republicans added the first woman to their team: Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst as vice chairwoman of the Republican Senate Conference. She will join Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the conference chairman. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri will be policy committee chairman and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota will be majority whip.
The Democratic caucus re-elected the team by acclamation: Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois as minority whip, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state as assistant leader and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan as Democratic policy committee chairwoman.
Liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and moderate Virginia Sen. Mark Warner serve as vice chairs of the conference. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is steering committee chairwoman. And Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be chairman of outreach while conservative West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin will be vice chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.