Senate Democrats decided on Tuesday to keep their top leaders in place when they take control of the chamber in January, electing Harry Reid as the new Senate majority leader.
Reid said that a top priority will be getting a new secretary of defense to replace Donald Rumsfeld. He added he hopes US President George W. Bush's nominee, former CIA director Robert Gates, will be confirmed by year's end -- even before the Democrats take control of Congress.
"I hope we can move it forward quickly," Reid said after Democrats met to select their leaders.
"The sooner we can move it forward the sooner we can get rid of Rumsfeld," he said.
"From Iraq to the economy, Americans want change, and the Senate majority ... is going to fight for change," Reid added.
Democrats campaigned on an agenda that includes raising the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, reducing the cost of college and expanding healthcare.
The party favors a phased withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, a major issue in last week's elections that saw US voters give Democrats control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in 12 years.
While Democrats cannot force Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq, they intend to beat the drums on Capitol Hill for a new strategy.
"This is not a time for threatening the president with anything. We're going to see how we can work with him to change course in Iraq," Reid said.
Democrats also elected Dick Durbin of Illinois as assistant Senate majority leader. He has been Senate assistant minority leader since January last year.
Senate Republicans were set to elect their leaders for the new Congress yesterday; Democrats and Republicans will elect their House of Representatives leaders on today and tomorrow, respectively.
The most heated battle is for House Democratic majority leader. Nancy Pelosi, set to be elected the chamber's speaker in January, has backed Representative John Murtha, a leading foe of the war, over her own deputy, Steny Hoyer.
Public advocacy groups have ripped Pelosi's choice of Murtha. They note that while she has vowed to clean up how Congress does business, Murtha has faced complaints that he has opposed reform and abused his position to benefit clients of his lobbyist brother.
These groups also note that in 1980, Murtha met FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks in a sting operation. Murtha did not accept bribes, but seemed willing to meet them again.
Murtha was not indicted and a House ethics committee cleared him of any wrongdoing.