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Democrats take control of Senate

Daschle, left, will officially take over from Lott on Wednesday  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate reconvenes Wednesday with Democrats in control of the chamber as Republicans vowed to continue to fighting for President Bush's agenda.

Democratic leader Tom Daschle held talks with leading Republicans on Tuesday evening to discuss how the chamber would be organized under Democratic leadership -- and how much clout Republicans would carry as a minority party.

Appearing on CNN's "Live at Daybreak" on Wednesday, Daschle revealed what he planned to tell Bush during a scheduled dinner together on Thursday.

"I think my message will be 'let's find a way to work together to find middle ground on the array of issues that we all care about, whether it's education, patient bill of rights, prescription drug benefits, energy policy, hate crimes.' There are a lot of things that we can do together and I'm hopeful that we can find a way and we can demonstrate that this is a new day and that will be my message."

The Senate's switch from Republican to Democratic control will be a low-key affair short on ceremony, but long on behind-the-scenes discussions. Here's how it will happen.



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CNN's Wolf Blizter interviews Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura on the U.S. Senate power switch (June 5)

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CNN's Jonathan Karl reports on the transition of power in the U.S. Senate (June 5)

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U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, (D) S. Dakota, keeps in close contact with constituents in his home state. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (June 4)

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Except for a 17-day period earlier this year before Vice President Dick Cheney was sworn in, allowing him to cast tie-breaking votes, Democrats have been the minority in the Senate since 1995.

Minutes after the Senate adjourned, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, visited Daschle to offer his congratulations. Hastert said he and Daschle "didn't talk much substance" during what he described as an impromptu visit, but did tell Daschle there were "a lot of issues we can work on," like education and health care.

The power shift was triggered by Vermont Sen. James Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party, flipping the 50-50 Senate balance in the Democrats' favor. Democrats will have a 50-49 edge in the new lineup, since Jeffords has said he will support Democrats for leadership positions.

Power technically switched to the Democrats as the Senate closed its business Tuesday evening. Daschle, from South Dakota, will formally replace Republican Trent Lott of Mississippi when the Senate reconvenes Wednesday morning.

Daschle held talks with Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Phil Gramm of Texas and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky late Tuesday to discuss the changeover.

A major sticking point in the transfer of power has been Republican concerns that Democrats will use their majorities on Senate committees to block presidential nominations. But Democrats complained that Republicans did exactly that to many of former President Clinton's nominees.

"If someone's not to our liking, we're going to bring it to the floor and vote on it," Democratic Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said. "I think what's wrong with the Republicans, and why they're worried, is they're afraid we're going to act like they did. We're not going to hold things up."

Republicans want the ability to bring a nomination to the full Senate even if a committee refuses to give it a favorable report. Democrats oppose that plan: Reid likened it to giving the GOP two additional votes on key panels such as the Judiciary Committee, which reviews judicial nominations.

On his last day as majority leader, Lott said Democrats' comments opposing much of Bush's agenda were "inflammatory and unfortunate."

"They just laid down the law," Lott said. "They said we're going to stop this, stop that, stop something else." He said Bush's plans to boost energy production, boost defense spending and reform health care could become flashpoints as Democrats took over the Senate.

"My plan will be to take action on the issues that matter, regardless of who calls the Senate to order," he said.

At the White House, meanwhile, Bush met with senators from both sides of the aisle on education reform. Those joining included four Democrats, four Republicans and Jeffords, now an independent.

Jeffords' switch has forced the White House to pay more attention to his arguments and those of top Democrats that his education bill needs to be bigger -- which could complicate negotiations with the Republicans who still run the House.

"We have an opportunity to show the American people that although the structure of the Senate may be altered somewhat, we still can get things done in a way that's positive for America," Bush said.

"You can't educate children with a tin cup budget, and you can't educate children on the cheap," said Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy, the incoming chairman of the Senate Health, Education and Labor committee.

Bush is also making an effort to reach out to other Republican moderates to make sure Jeffords is the only one jumping ship. Bush and his wife Laura will have dinner with Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, at the White House Tuesday night. The president will meet with Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee on Thursday.

McCain had a weekend meeting with Daschle that stirred even more anxiety in GOP ranks about another party defection. But McCain has said he has no intention of leaving the party. And Daschle has his own dinner plans at the White House on Thursday.

• U.S. Senate
• The White House

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