Several Senate Democrats expressed relief that the looming battle between Reid's two likely successors, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York, had been averted, or at least postponed.
In the curious math of the Senate, Reid's life may actually be easier with his not having 59 votes in his caucus.
Over the past two years, Reid struggled to get legislation adopted — even during the six months that his party controlled the 60 votes needed to surmount Republican filibusters. Often, bills were approved only after Reid had resorted to unsavory political deals to win the votes of specific senators or forced Democrats in the House to simply accept whatever watered-down package he could get through the Senate.
In the next Congress, aides said, he will no longer be expected to try to pick off one or two Republican votes to reach the 60 needed to overcome filibusters. Nor will he be accused of failing to push through bills that the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, succeeded in muscling through her chamber.
As the man who controls the business on the Senate floor, Reid can swerve this way and that as he tries to negotiate with McConnell and Republicans over amendments, while also trying to corral votes among Democrats, win over allies and draw opponents into the open. In a chamber where any one senator can delay legislation for days, he alternately coaxes and threatens, cajoles and castigates.
Aides say that is unlikely to change. After returning to Washington on Tuesday, he was quickly back at it, meeting separately with Schumer and Durbin on strategy, speaking by phone with Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, about developing legislation, and with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, about the prospects of repealing the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.
He also met Wednesday with Pelosi to chart plans for the lame-duck session, including the debate on taxes and, aides said, has spoken several times with President Barack Obama.
With McConnell taking a tough line, Reid is said to be hopeful of potential deals with the likely Republican House speaker, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, with whom he has a cordial relationship. They have talked by phone and are scheduled to have dinner at the White House next week with other congressional leaders.
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