WASHINGTON — The Senate met under new, Democratic management on Wednesday, completing an unprecedented shift in power that dislodged Republicans and ushered in a new era of divided government. Majority Leader Tom Daschle swiftly suggested changes in the GOP-crafted budget.
"Both sides have to come to the middle. We can’t just lob bombs," the South Dakota senator said, although he also made clear he was prepared to oppose President Bush on occasion in his role as leader of a "very, very slim majority."
Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the GOP leader, ceded power to Daschle with a pledge of "continued friendship" and a list of accomplishments forged in six years of Republican rule.
"I think you will not see him more combative but much more aggressive," Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said of Lott.
The new power relationships will take weeks or months to develop, and negotiations resumed during the day on a plan to reorganize committees along lines that reflect the new party breakdown.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said a "rough draft" of an accord could be ready by today, and final agreement approved next week.
Other changes took place swiftly.
West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, 83 and the longest-serving Democrat, replaced South Carolina Republican Strom Thurmond, 98, as president pro tem, a constitutional office that makes him third in line for the presidency.
Senators debated education legislation, picking up where they had left off on Tuesday — almost. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., supplanted James Jeffords of Vermont as the Republican manager of the bill.
Jeffords, whose switch from Republican to independent aligned with Democrats triggered the seismic shift in power, sat on the Democratic side of the aisle for the first time. "I was at awe knowing that I was entering a new phase in my life," said Jeffords, whose desk had been moved overnight.
The change in command brought to an end the first period in 50 years in which Republicans held control of the White House and both houses of Congress. It also marked the first time in history that one party ceded power to another without an intervening election.