Democrats yesterday demanded an equal split of power in the Senate, particularly in powerful committees, but Republicans continued to insist they will remain in control.
“We think that certainly committee membership ought to be as reflective of Senate membership as is possible. That has been the historic precedent,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, told reporters yesterday. “Clearly, if the Senate is 50-50, then all of past precedent would dictate that the committees be 50-50.”
Mr. Daschle made the remarks on the Senate’s first day back in Washington in more than a month as members of Congress returned with a clear partisan split in mood.
Republicans were jubilant over the apparent victory of Texas Gov. George W. Bush for the presidency and Democrats defensive and defiant about the prospects of Vice President Al Gore losing the election.
Democrats picked up four seats in the last election, bringing the Senate to a 50-50 tie. If Mr. Bush’s victory is not overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, his running mate Richard B. Cheney would be vice president and would break tie votes, giving Republicans the barest margin of control.
Mr. Daschle first suggested “power-sharing” the day after the election, but this is the first time he has raised the issue since the close Washington state Senate race was decided, giving the victory to Democrat Maria Cantwell over incumbent Sen. Slade Gorton and assuring Democrats of a tie.
“It could be that we have co-chairs. It could be that the Democrats chair some and Republicans chair others,” Mr. Daschle said yesterday. “It could be that we do what some state legislatures have done, and that is rotate committee chairs.”
But Republicans showed little inclination to give up the majority status they have held since 1994.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said his party “will be as cooperative as we can,” but “in the end, you have to have designated leadership, you have to have chairmen.”
“And one party or the other will be in the majority, and the Republicans will be in the majority, whether it’s President Bush and Vice President [Richard B.] Cheney, or President Gore and Vice President [Joseph I.] Lieberman,” Mr. Lott said.
Should Mr. Gore’s legal challenge succeed and he manages to become president, Mr. Lieberman would have to resign as Connecticut senator. The Republican governor, John G. Rowland, would likely use his appointment power to give his party a 51-49 majority in the Senate.
Other Republican senators were more blunt about their disinterest in sharing power, a position that has changed little since Mr. Daschle first mentioned it Nov. 8.
“It’s very hard to drive a car if two people are controlling the wheel at the same time,” said Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican.
Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, said the 50-50 split would require bipartisan bills. “We have got to be more inclusive,” he said.
But, he said, that does not mean shared or rotating chairmanships.
“Congress cannot run effectively that way,” Mr. Gramm said. “Somebody has got to be chairman. Someone has got to set the agenda.”
The one open crack in the Republican front was Arizona Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
He told reporters yesterday that he has discussed with Democrats giving them an equal number of seats on his committee, and an equal share of staff, so long as he remains the sole chairman.
That arrangement would allow Mr. McCain to control the agenda of the committee, but it would give Democrats a chance to shape or block legislation before the panel.
He said Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, the senior Democrat on the committee, had approved the deal.
“Senator Hollings does not want to be the chairman,” Mr. McCain said. “He wants me to be the chairman … so he and I are in agreement, and I hope that others would agree as well. The Democrats do have 50 votes.”
Mr. McCain admitted, however, that “a number of the Republican senators agree; a number disagree.”
Mr. Lott said he had not discussed the matter with his chairmen to see whether any might be pondering a power-sharing deal.
“We recognize … allocation of staff and space for those staff, the members, and how the committees are made up is very important, and we hope to get to that later on this week or early next week,” he said.
“But I’m not going to speculate on what it would be until we’ve had a chance to hear from everybody and begin to come to an agreement on how that will be handled,” he said.
John Godfrey contributed to this report