Joe Biden faces a dramatically different start to his presidency if Democrats are able to secure Jon Ossoff’s lead in his Georgia Senate runoff – with a big stimulus bill, prompt assembly of a government, and a string of judicial confirmations in the offing.
An Ossoff victory, on top of Rev. Raphael Warnock’s projected win over Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, would establish a 50-50 Senate – handing Democrats effective control after Sen. Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president.
It isn’t enough of a majority to ram through big changes of the kind President Trump has warned about – a ‘Green New Deal’ or Medicare for All – but would constitute a game-changer for Biden’s first years in office.
President-elect Joe Biden would be able to push through cabinet nominees in a 50-50 Senate controlled by Democrats – and can use budget procedures to jam through sweeping legislation
The first immediate effect will come for confirmation of Biden’s cabinet. With a closely-divided Senate in mind, Biden has tried to shy away from picks who might prove to be lightning rods – mindful that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could have the authority to tank nominees he can rally his caucus to defeat.
Some, like Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress – Biden’s pick to run the Office of Management and Budget – were already facing blowback for tweets critical of Republicans.
Getting her through in a GOP Senate might have required approval from someone like GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who Tanden has gone after. In a Democratic Senate, cabinet nominees can go through on a simple majority vote, with Harris breaking any ties.
This should be enough to get through all but nominees who have a scandal or something that blows up support within the Democratic caucus.
Biden can install the officials he wants to oversee his plan to speed up vaccine distribution and oversee enacted plans to aid small businesses.
The new dynamic already has the Biden team rethinking its options, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired in a spat over immigration with the Trump Administration, now getting more consideration, according to a CNN report as the results came in.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., successfully bottled up judicial nominations during the Obama administration
Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff leads Sen. David Perdue (D-Ga.). If he wins, it would swing Senate control to the Democrats
Democratic Senate candidate Reverend Raphael Warnock is the projected winner over appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler
Without a majority, Biden would have kicked off his tenure negotiating with Republicans to win approval for his nominees, and might have had to settle for recess appointments or months relying on ‘acting’ officials – as Trump did by design at the helm of numerous agencies.
It will be a similar story on many judicial nominations, after Trump and Republicans spent years packing Circuit Courts and lower federal courts with conservatives.
A majority also allows Democrats to squelch probes Republicans are demanding of Hunter Biden’s business dealings and Trump’s claims of massive election fraud. Republicans, who control the chamber now, used the post-election period to hold a hearing on the president’s claims of massive fraud in Biden’s 306 to 232 Electoral Vote victory – airing many of the claims Trump and his legal team put forward without persuading courts of their claims.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally, used his perch to organize pre-election hearings on the Russia probe, while Homeland Security Chair Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) produced a lengthy on the president-elect’s son, accusing him of ‘corruption.’ Graham also oversaw the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, now Justice Amy Coney Barrett, scheduling quick confirmation at McConnell’s urging weeks before the election.
With the Senate filibuster alive and well, it will still require 60 votes to get major legislation through the chamber – giving considerable sway to McConnell, 78, who was just reelected to another six-year term, and his conference.
Biden has a procedural option of using budget reconciliation procedures to slam through significant legislation with the requisite budgetary impact on a simple majority.
The president-elect himself spoke to the importance of securing Senate control while campaigning for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff before Election Day.
That is how Barack Obama finally got Obamacare through the Senate despite a Republican filibuster.
‘By electing Jon and the reverend, you can break the gridlock that has gripped Washington and this nation,’ he told rally supporters Monday. ‘With their votes in the Senate, we’ll be able to make the progress we need to make on jobs and health care and justice and the environment and so many other things.’
A key early choice for Biden and his team will be how big a reconciliation package to push for, and what to include in it.
Only items with a budgetary impact could make it in, but this could account for substantial action – changes to Obamacare, some climate initiatives, $2,000 stimulus checks that couldn’t make it through the Senate, and tax legislation.
Republicans had already begun raising the national debt to resist Democratic proposals and even Trump’s push for larger coronavirus relief checks – a sign that they would dig in against major Biden economic initiatives despite Congress pushing trillions out the door under Trump.
Democratic control isn’t locked up yet – Ossoff may have to make it through a recount even if he hangs onto his lead, and McConnell would remain in charge until Harris is sworn in Jan. 20th.
When the Senate went 50-50 during the Bush administration, it took days for party leaders to negotiate a power-sharing agreement over committee membership and staff.
The split grants extraordinary power to those in the middle, who can make or break legislation. That means Democratic centrists like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin gain tremendous leverage. A handful of Republicans who resisted Trump on occasion, like Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Collins, and Utah’s Mitt Romney also can negotiate either with leadership or seek to act as a bloc to secure legislative changes they all favor.
It is terrain Biden knows well, having served in a 50-50 Senate as a senior Democrat, and negotiating with Senate Republicans over economic stimulus legislation in the Obama years.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who holds just a three-vote majority at the moment, seized on the news early Wednesday. ‘Together, in under two weeks when we inaugurate the new Biden-Harris Administration, a unified Democratic Party will advance extraordinary progress For The People. We will pursue a science and values-based plan to crush the virus and deliver relief to struggling families, safeguard the right to quality affordable health care and launch a plan to Build Back Better powered by fair economic growth.’