WASHINGTON – Democrats elected Harry Reid as their new majority leader on Tuesday to take the reins when the party controls 51 Senate seats in January.
"Majority Leader Harry Reid sounds really good to us. And over the next two years, it's going to sound great to the American people, when Harry and his team show what we can do," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York at a Capitol Hill press conference.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois will continue to serve as Reid's No. 2 man, having been voted assistant Senate majority leader.
Schumer will serve as vice chairman of the Democratic conference, a newly created post as the No. 3 in the Democratic leadership. The position, officially called the Vice Chair for Policy and Strategy, is a reward to Schumer for his success as the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He will also remain head of the DSCC as 21 Republicans and 12 Democrats go up for re-election to the Senate in 2008.
Reid, of Nevada, has been the Senate minority leader for the past two years, taking over for former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle when he lost his re-election bid in 2004. Reid said he wants to push a change of course for Iraq, reform health care and renew the education agenda when Democrats lead the Senate in the 110th Congress.
Reid called the position an "opportunity of a lifetime," pledging to work with Republicans in a bipartisan manner.
"We are going to treat the minority, the Republicans, as they did not treat us. They'll be involved in decisions," Reid said. "I want to work with the president of the United States. I want to work with the Republican leader of the Senate, Republican leader of the House. We open our arms because we realize the only way to accomplish anything is on a bipartisan basis."
Elsewhere, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington joined the leadership team as party conference secretary, replacing Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who is now heading the Steering and Outreach Committee. Murray said she was honored to be part of an "unbelievable fighting majority team."
Other leaders include Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia as President Pro Tempore; Barbara Boxer of California as Chief Deputy Whip; and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico as chairman of Committee Outreach. His deputy will be Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota will continue as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee.
Senate Democrats also appointed former U.S. Capitol police chief Terrance Gainer as sergeant at arms.
Gainer, who also previously was the No. 2 person in the District of Columbia police force, retired April 6 from the Capitol job after objections were raised to the hiring of his son-in-law as a police officer.
Next year, Reid will take over the position now held by Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, who is retiring at the end of the congressional session.
Senate Republicans are scheduled to elect their new leaders on Wednesday. Former Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., officially entered the race for the No. 2 job in his GOP caucus on Monday. He is running against Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Lott's spokesman told FOX News Lott is "on the road to victory," but on Tuesday Alexander responded that he would do a better job at behind-the-scenes maneuvering to secure votes on bills. He noted what he said is Lott's penchant for seeking the limelight. "We don't need two quarterbacks on the same playing field at the same time," he said.
Alexander was also somewhat critical of the White House, saying he intends to ask President Bush to meet more regularly with Republican leaders — once a week to set the agenda — and claiming the path down Pennsylvania Ave. needs to be "more of a two-way street."
House Democratic leaders will be elected on Thursday and Friday, but the race isn't as congenial as the Senate Democrats'. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is unchallenged to become speaker of the House but two lawmakers are jockeying for the post of House majority leader, the House second-in-command.
Lawmakers returned Monday to a lame-duck session to finish up legislative business on the budget, Vietnam trade issues and confirmation hearings for a defense secretary nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld.
More than 50 incoming House freshmen spent the day in meetings focused not on big legislative items or the Iraq war but rather on office logistics and ethics — a key issue after a season of scandal that had, at least in part, led to the election of the new members.
In the Senate, a 10-person freshman class of eight Democrats, one Republican and Democratic-leaning independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont also began orientation. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who was appointed last year by Gov. Jon Corzine, was elected in his own right earlier this month and joined the orientation session.
Democratic Sen.-elect Jon Tester of Montana, fresh from a victory in a close race, appeared overwhelmed.
"It hasn't soaked in yet," he said. "Maybe it will never soak in."
The Capitol police weren't quite ready for Tester, a farmer with a throwback flat top haircut and fingers missing on his left hand from an old accident with a meat grinder. They asked him to empty his pockets for inspection.
"Just like at the airport, you put it all through?" Tester asked.
The officer nodded, then recognized the newcomer and waved him through.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.