WASHINGTON — House and Senate minority leaders Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell surrounded themselves with the triumphant faces of newly elected lawmakers Tuesday. But the glow of victory couldn’t hide the leaders’ own Election Day failures.
Pelosi, the onetime House speaker and the first woman to hold the office, touted the diversity of her caucus, even though her quest to flip 25 seats and gain control of the House failed by two-thirds. McConnell declared his caucus was “ready to get started”— as a minority yet again and under a president whose defeat he had named as his top priority.
“The election’s behind us,” McConnell emphasized with a tight smile.
What lay ahead looked to be a bitter end to a presidential and congressional election year that consumed $6 billion in campaign cash, bombarded voters with political ads and changed nothing about who holds the presidency or which parties control Congress.
Voters dashed the hopes of out-of-power veterans like Pelosi and McConnell while electing a dozen new senators and at least 82 new House members. Winners and losers in those races are walking the same Capitol Hill hallways these next few, awkward weeks, as the freshmen attend orientation and those they defeated convene in a lame-duck, end-of-year session of Congress.
The incoming lawmakers joined the look-ahead parade, many staying clear of the cut-it-or-shut-it cries of tea party insurgents who swept Republicans to power in the House two years ago. They spoke instead of a concept often spat upon back then: compromise.
But the reality is that divided government will rein in Washington for at least two more years. A Democratic president and Senate majority leader and Republican House Speaker John Boehner remain the prime power brokers over excruciating choices on taxes and spending. Despite the millions of dollars they raised for their parties’ candidates, Pelosi and McConnell retain their grip only on clout-challenged minorities.