WASHINGTON (AFP) — The projected Democratic takeover of the US Senate is a game-changer for President-elect Joe Biden, who will be able to push through his key goals and nominations without systematic Republican obstruction.
Raphael Warnock, a pastor, and young political star Jon Ossoff held leads in dual-seat Senate runoffs in Georgia over Republican incumbents closely allied with defeated President Donald Trump.
The victories would mean that Democrats and independents aligned with them will have 50 seats — an evenly divided Senate that gives Democrats control as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will break ties.
What can Biden do now?
Democrats would control both chambers of Congress as well as the White House for the first time since the initial two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when he pushed through a major economic recovery package and a signature health care plan that extended or improved insurance coverage for millions of Americans.
Biden would now be able to push through Democratic priorities starting with boosting coronavirus relief checks to $2,000 for every American — a proposal blocked by the current Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, despite backing from Trump.
Other Biden goals that are now within reach — raising the minimum wage to $15 nationwide, relieving some of the burden of student loan debt and creating a health care “public option” — a long-held dream of Democrats who want to offer affordable, government-supported insurance to compete with private companies.
One priority that will be especially personal to Democrats — passing the “For the People Act” that will protect voting rights nationwide, make Election Day a national holiday and limit Republicans’ push to carve out safe House seats by putting nonpartisan commissions in charge of drawing electoral districts.
Does Biden enjoy free rein?
No. Democratic control could not be more wafer-thin, giving kingmaking power to individual senators, and the party holds its slimmest majority in nearly a century in the House of Representatives.
One key senator will be Joe Manchin, a Democrat who has kept winning in West Virginia even as his state became one of the most solidly Republican.
While broadly supportive of Democratic priorities on the economy and foreign policy, Manchin is expected to oppose any climate legislation seen as threatening his state’s coal industry and has voiced misgivings about wide-reaching gun control.
But Biden will likely breathe a sigh of relief on appointments to his cabinet and eventually the judiciary as the Senate is in charge of confirmations.
Republicans had earlier indicated they may try to block at least one nominee — Neera Tanden, an outspoken progressive tapped to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
Some observers believe Biden was waiting for the Senate outcome before announcing one remaining top position — attorney general — and that he now has leeway to choose a more assertive candidate as America’s top law enforcement official.
What is the victory’s political effect?
Huge. The victory would be a shot in the arm after dismay among Democrats that they lost seats in the House and that Trump still feels he has a lifeline for his divisive politics.
Democrats have voiced utter delight at taking away majority leadership from McConnell, a famously ruthless tactician who blocked much of Obama’s agenda.
“The fact that Mitch McConnell — a man with an unrelenting commitment to undermine America’s first Black president — could lose his veto power over American democracy (because) of Raphael Warnock, John Ossoff and Stacey Abrams is some kind of American justice,” tweeted Ben Rhodes, who was a top aide to Obama.
Warnock will be the first African-American Democratic senator ever elected from the South and Ossoff will be the South’s first Jewish senator in more than a century, in an election strategized by Abrams, a Black woman.
But Biden, a senator for 36 years, is surely aware that the president’s party usually loses seats in its first midterm election, which will take place in November 2022.
Amanda Litman, who founded the Run for Something movement after Trump’s election that encourages progressive candidates, tweeted that Democrats will have “less than two years to deliver huge meaningful progress that people can feel.”
“There is no such thing as limited capital here: Do as many good things as possible, then talk about it around the clock.”
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