Meet Congress's New Bosses, Same as the Old Bosses

Voters ushered in dozens of new lawmakers on Tuesday, but Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell aren't going anywhere.

Top row, from left: J. Scott Applewhite/AP, Timothy D. Easley/AP; Bottom row, from left: John Locher/AP, Evan Vucci/AP

Voters who thought they were ushering in congressional change on Tuesday won't be seeing any in the upper ranks of the party leadership.

While Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid will switch chairs in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of Congress are preparing to elect the same people who have led them, in some cases, for more than a decade. In the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi quickly announced she would seek another term in the Democratic leadership post she has held, either in the majority or minority, since 2003. No one has stepped up to challenge her, and it is likely the top four Democrats of Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn, and Xavier Becerra will remain the same, according to several congressional leadership aides.

Strengthened by the largest Republican majority in decades, Speaker John Boehner is expected to face no more than token GOP opposition when the full House convenes to reelect him on January 3. He has solidified his standing among House Republicans in the months since his chief lieutenant, Representative Eric Cantor, lost in a stunning primary defeat.

Across the Capitol, deep losses that cost Democrats control of the Senate are not likely to cost Reid his job. Two senior members who want to replace him, Richard Durbin and Charles Schumer, won't challenge him this time, and despite murmurs of discontent from conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp, no one really has the clout to take him out.

So what explains all this stability for a party that just got routed at the polls? For starters, Reid and Pelosi are famous for keeping a tight rein both on their caucuses and their own power. The party's risk of losing the Senate was well-known, and if there is any internal criticism of Reid, it is that he tried too hard to protect the most vulnerable Democrats by shielding them from tough votes. In the House, Pelosi remains popular with the liberal members who make up a higher percentage of the shrinking Democratic caucus, adding to her job security. And she is strongest at what is widely considered the most crucial aspect of party leadership: fundraising. Even though it didn't translate into wins, House Democrats easily collected more money than their counterparts in the House GOP.

"Things that are under our control, we excelled at," said one House leadership aide. The quote speaks to another factor explaining why there is no bubbling rebellion inside the Capitol: The one point on which Republican and Democratic lawmakers agree is that the blame for Democratic losses on Tuesday resides with President Obama, and not the party leadership in Congress.

At the same, the grip that Reid and Pelosi—each 74—hold on power means that there is little room for younger members to advance. Deputies like Hoyer, Clyburn, Durbin, and Schumer are all in their 60s and 70s themselves and occupy the next rungs of leadership, pushing everyone else further down the ladder. The status quo creates a congressional dynamic similar to one that Benjy Sarlin explores out in the states: the lack of a Democratic bench.

The party in Congress clearly is prizing stability at the top now, but at what cost in the future?