- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

1:39 p.m.

Senate Democrats picked two women for senior posts today, and their choice as majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, said a top priority is getting a new secretary of defense confirmed.

Mr. Reid said he supports replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld with former CIA Director Robert Gates by year’s end, as President Bush has urged.

“I hope we can move it forward quickly,” Mr. Reid, of Nevada, said after the Democratic caucus in the Old Senate Chamber. “The sooner we can move it forward, the sooner we can get rid of Rumsfeld.”

Mr. Reid spoke after winning election to the top leadership unopposed and presenting the rest of the Democratic leadership team elected by the caucus during a private meeting in the historic chamber, used since the Civil War for the Senate’s most delicate decisions.

He said the seldom-used chamber was an appropriate venue, given the election results, in which Democrats wrested control of Congress from Republicans for the first time in a dozen years.

When the 110th Congress convenes in January, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois will be Mr. Reid’s deputy as the vote-counting majority whip.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, will continue serving as the cash-raising campaign committee chairman and also will assume the title of vice chairman of the Democratic caucus. As such, Mr. Reid said, Mr. Schumer will act as a utility man who will tend to policy or political matters as needed.

Filling out the Democratic roster are two women: Sen. Patty Murray of Washington will serve as conference secretary, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan will head the party steering committee.

That panel, in turn, will be meeting later today to choose committee chairmen.

House Democrats will face a difficult choice when they pick their leaders Thursday now that speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi of California has rejected her current top lieutenant in favor of longtime confidant John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Murtha, a blunt Vietnam veteran whose call for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq helped rally Democrats for the election, had appeared to be the underdog to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic whip.

The politicking over leadership posts happened yesterday while Republican leaders opened a lame-duck session in which the outgoing Congress — including defeated Republicans — returned to finish work on the budget, Vietnam trade and the nomination of a defense secretary.

Legislation to normalize trade relations with Hanoi failed to win House passage late yesterday, forcing Republicans to try again under different rules before Mr. Bush visits Vietnam later in the week.

In other action, the House passed and sent to Mr. Bush a bill that could call for fining and imprisoning animal rights advocates who threaten scientists conducting animal research.

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