The Year in Review 2012: Congress plays musical chairs but leadership stays the same

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International
The U.S. Capitol Building is seen in Washington, DC on December 19, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
The U.S. Capitol Building is seen in Washington, DC on December 19, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

The political divide of the U.S. Congress remained the same after Election Day 2012, with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and Democrats holding onto the Senate.

At least one political observer said Americans deserved better.


"The national government has not functioned well of late yet this election returned to power the same leaders in the House, Senate and presidency who have presided over little recent progress," commentator Steven Schier, a political science professor at Minnesota's Carleton College, said soon after the election. "That makes the prospects for breakthrough reforms that solve pressing national problems murky at best."

"It was a status quo election when the country needs far more than status quo solutions."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada pledged to work with Republicans, noting compromise wasn't a four-letter word. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, wasn't so quick to offer an olive branch, saying President Obama's margin of victory over Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney wasn't a mandate.


For his part, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he, too, was willing to work with the opposition party, but noted the electorate kept Republicans in power in the lower chamber.

During a news conference the day after Election Day, Boehner said, "Mr. President, the Republican majority here in the House stands ready to work with you to try to do what's best for the country."

Democrats boldly predicted they'd reclaim the House. Not only did that not happen, the final tally wasn't close. In fact Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi scaled back her prediction of winning a net 25 seats (needed for a leadership switch) to a more modest single-digit number.

Republicans expressed confidence that they'd take over the Senate -- and with a GOP House and Republican president, offer the country a unified government.

That didn't happen either. In fact, Democrats added two seats, inching them closer to a filibuster-proof, 60-vote supermajority.

But while the leadership remained the same, the House and Senate memberships did change their makeup.

Wisconsin elected its first openly gay U.S. senator, sending soon-to-be-former Rep. Tammy Baldwin to the seat of retiring four-term Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. Baldwin also is the first female senator elected from Wisconsin.


Minnesota's normally reliably blue 8th Congressional District, which elected Republican Chip Cravaack in a 2010 midterm election shocker over veteran Jim Oberstar, returned to the Democratic fold with the election of Rick Nolan, who heads back to Congress after a several-decades hiatus.

Both houses saw retirements of long-time members. In the Senate, heavy-hitters such Republicans John Kyl of Arizona, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Democrats Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Jim Web of Virginia and Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Kohl all bid adieu.

In the House, 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans retired, including Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who hoped his libertarian brand of politics would catch fire and lead to his becoming the Republican Party presidential candidate.

Two Democratic Senate seats Republicans thought were ripe for the plucking remained in Democratic hands thanks to major miscues by the GOP candidates.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, was on the critical list, given no chance of winning a second term until Republican challenger Rep. Todd Akin spoke of "legitimate rape" then refused to drop out despite calls up and down party to do so.


Then in Indiana, crystal-ball gazers gave Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly virtually no chance of winning the Senate seat long held by GOP moderate Richard Lugar -- until GOP rival Richard Mourdock landed in hot water with comments during a debate that he is opposed to abortion in the case of pregnancies resulting from rape because they are "something that God intended to happen."

Democrats also picked up the seat once held by Edward Kennedy when Elizabeth Warren ousted one-term Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

In another closely watched Senate race, Democratic former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine defeated Republican former Gov. George Allen to keep Webb's seat in Democratic hands.

Democrats also won the Maine seat held by Republican Snowe, because independent Angus King said he would caucus with the party.

In Connecticut, Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy defeated Republican Linda McMahon in her second election bid, and in West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin won his first full term by defeating Republican businessman John Raese.

In the House, several notable Republicans lost races, including Tea Party firebrand Allan West, who lost his re-election bid to Democrat Patrick Murphy, conceding the race nearly two weeks after the election. War veteran Tammy Duckworth defeated Tea Party-backed Joe Walsh to join the Illinois congressional delegation.


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