- After years shut out of power, Democrats are about to have a lot more room to maneuver in Washington.
- With Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on track Wednesday to oust their Republican rivals Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue from the Senate in runoff elections, the party is set to gain control of the upper chamber of Congress.
- Alongside President-elect Joe Biden and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, the victories mean that Democrats will control both the White House and Congress for the first time since the first half of President Barack Obama's first term.
After years shut out of power, Democrats are about to have a lot more room to maneuver in Washington.
With Democrats the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on track to oust their Republican rivals Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue after Tuesday's Senate runoff elections, the party is set to gain control of the upper chamber of Congress. Warnock is projected to unseat Loeffler and Ossoff will defeat Perdue, NBC News projects.
The two wins give Democrats 50 seats in the 100-person chamber, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to cast tiebreaking votes.
Alongside President-elect Joe Biden and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, the victories mean that Democrats will control both the White House and Congress for the first time since the party was crushed in the 2010 midterms during President Barack Obama's first term.
Earlier in the week, Biden acknowledged the significance of the race at an event in Atlanta, urging supporters to turn out to vote.
"The power is literally in your hands," he told Democrats there. "One state can chart the course not just for the next four years but for a generation."
If Democrats are able to stay united, the rapid turnover in power could quickly start having a broad impact. Some of the most immediate areas where Democrats are likely to benefit include:
- Judges and other presidential nominations. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gained infamy by stonewalling Obama's judicial nominations, a Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is likely to be far more accommodating. Biden's team has already started the search for potential nominees to the federal bench and has announced a number of his Cabinet-level appointees. Many of those appointees were expected to sail through no matter who won the Senate. But some, like Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden, were likely to face more scrutiny. Biden has still not named nominees for some high-level roles, such as attorney general, and now may have more leeway in whom he chooses to fill out his administration.
- Coronavirus relief and $2,000 checks. The one thing that stood in the way of $2,000 direct payments to most Americans during Covid-19 stimulus talks late last year was the GOP-controlled Senate under McConnell. Biden has said he supports the increased payments, and House Democrats actually passed legislation authorizing them. While some Republicans in the Senate, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., expressed support for the measure, McConnell never brought the matter up for a vote. On Wednesday, Schumer said the $2,000 checks will be "one of the first things I want to do when our new senators are seated." Biden has said that he will lay out his Covid-19 relief agenda early this year, and that it will include both direct payments and more funding for vaccine distribution.
- Other progressive agenda items. Biden was far from the most progressive Democrat to campaign for the presidency this cycle, but his agenda is still an ambitious departure from the types of policies that have been pursued since President Donald Trump was inaugurated four years ago. It remains to be seen what issue Biden will tackle first, but revamping Obamacare, overhauling the nation's infrastructure, and taking big steps to fight climate change are all high on the list. It's likely that Biden will try to act quickly once he is inaugurated on Jan. 20, as the party in power tends to lose seats in the House of Representatives come midterm election time, and Democrats only have a slim majority. Biden has also said he intends to roll back the corporate tax cuts Republicans passed in 2017 and raise the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans, though those changes aren't likely until the economy recovers.
Of course, there are some important limitations to Democrats' newfound powers.
For one, the party is ideologically diverse, comprising both liberal firebrands such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and right-leaning moderates such as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's slim reelection to her leadership role on Sunday, by a vote of 216-209, was an early illustration of just how tight many of the party's votes are likely to be in the future. The Senate majority will be even tighter.
Another limitation is procedural. Because the minority party in the Senate can filibuster, most measures in that chamber require 60 votes to pass. Some Democrats have called for an end to the filibuster, but it's not clear that enough of them will support that effort, and Biden — who is often protective of Senate traditions and norms — hasn't embraced the idea. Democrats could still use a legislative process known as "budget reconciliation" to pass certain tax and spending measures with a bare majority.
In a statement on Wednesday, Schumer said he was ready to help Biden and Harris pass their plans in Congress.
"As Majority Leader, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will have a partner who is ready, willing and able to help achieve a forward-looking agenda and deliver help and bold change to the American people," Schumer said.
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