Democrats keep their majority in the Senate. Why this victory is so important for them — and why the runoff in Georgia still matters.
Democrats can celebrate this Sunday, Nov. 13. Nevada remains blue, Catherine Cortez Masto won her reelection as senator for the state. This is according to projections from major U.S. media outlets. This means the Democratic Party can keep its majority in at least one of the two chambers of Congress.
However, this victory will not enable President Joe Biden to set a new political tone or even pass any major reforms in the remaining two years of his term. The slight Senate majority has so far been of only limited help to him because many plans failed as a result of opposition from within his own ranks.
Additionally, election results for the House of Representatives have still not been fully counted.* If Republicans obtain the majority here, as currently seems likely, it would result in a split Congress: Democrats would control the Senate while Republicans would control the House. Congress has been divided like this frequently, especially after midterms. These have never been pleasant times for the sitting president because the opposition will take every opportunity to block his policies. Republicans could make life difficult for Biden with investigative committees or even possible impeachment proceedings. However, the latter would fail against the Democrats’ majority in the Senate.
Not Just Any State
With a majority in the Senate, the administration can fill posts for important offices and not just in agencies. Federal court judges, including justices of the Supreme Court, are nominated by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate. This leaves Democrats with an opportunity to act, which is ever more important in these times. Not only in the Supreme Court, but in courts across the country, conservative to far-right forces are increasingly trying to enforce their policies through lawsuits. Allies are needed in the courts, especially against the many attempts to restrict the right to vote.
This election victory is important for Democrats beyond the control of the Senate as well. Like Arizona and Pennsylvania, where Democrats managed to flip a Senate seat from Republicans, Nevada is not just any state. It is one that was hotly contested, a battleground state. The fact that Democrats were able to keep a seat there is a sign; the “red wave” that Republicans dreamed of and that many election observers had already seen as sweeping the country failed to materialize. The Biden administration was easily attacked in light of high inflation, against which it is largely powerless. The fact that Republicans were not able to score even with that and hurt themselves besides with the topic of abortion makes this loss all the more clear.
Donald Trump personally built up the Senate candidates in Arizona and Pennsylvania and supported them in their campaigns, and they failed like many other Trump supporters in these elections. The former president will now try all the more stubbornly to secure power over the party. It is becoming increasingly clear to Republicans that Trump could be more of a burden to them than a plus. The fact that Trump will most likely announce his next presidential candidacy this Tuesday won’t help.**
51 Instead of 50 — A Small but Important Difference
Whether Democrat Raphael Warnock wins the Georgia runoff election against Republican Herschel Walker is nevertheless important for Democrats. It makes a small but important difference whether they have 50 or 51 senators. With this number, the composition of the Senate judiciary committee would also shift from 11 members for each party to 12 members for Democrats and 10 for Republicans.
Due to the stalemate, it had been possible until now for Republicans to block judicial nominations for weeks by having all 11 members vote against them. The nomination then had to be formally withdrawn and subsequently transferred to the entire Senate. There, Democrats were still able to get candidates through with Vice President Kamala Harris’s vote. This was exactly the case with the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to become a Supreme Court Justice, as well as with a variety of nominations for posts in federal courts.
If Warnock defends his seat in Georgia, this delay tactic would no longer be possible. With a majority on the judiciary committee, Democrats could nominate candidates significantly faster in the future. That’s why both parties will put a lot of time and money into the campaign between Walker and Warnock in the next two weeks, leading up to the runoff election on Dec. 6, to win over even those voters who think their vote doesn’t matter anymore.
Every Buffer Helps
The Democratic Party leadership is also hoping for a victory in Georgia to ensure greater discipline in the caucus. In the past, many political plans failed due to opposition from within its own ranks. Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema refused to change the rules of procedure in the Senate which would have allowed Democrats to enact central policies such as voting rights reform. Neither is up for reelection, so they will also be part of the next Senate. In order to outvote the two purely numerically, Democrats would actually need two more seats than previously. However, if they also get Georgia and have 51 instead of 50 senators, Manchin’s and Sinema’s leverage would be halved.
And 51 seats would conceivably be a good starting point, after all, for the upcoming elections in 2024. This time, 35 Senate seats were up for reelection; in two years, 33 seats in different states will be up for reelection. It could be more difficult for Democrats to keep the Senate then. Whether in Ohio, Virginia or Montana, there are altogether 21 seats still occupied by Democrats that are up for reelection, but only 10 Republican ones. In short, Democrats have more to lose in two years than Republicans. Every buffer helps in this case, even a single seat in Georgia.
And what role did and does Biden play in all of this? Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, known socialist-leaning politician and regular critic of the government, writes that this election victory is thanks to him. She of all people praised Biden, saying he “ignored ivory-tower economists” and “delivered significant economic progress for working people.” This is also noteworthy because large parts of the party had tried to keep Biden away from their candidates in light of his poor poll numbers in recent weeks before the elections. Cortez Masto also preferred to campaign in Nevada without him, instead campaigning with former President Barack Obama. Now, Democrats are counting on unity once again.
The president himself is traveling, having flown to Egypt for the climate conference, to Cambodia, and then on to Bali for the Group of 20 Summit. “I feel good, and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years,” Biden said at a press conference in Phnom Penh. Years? Even he ought to know that his victory is only momentary. Soon, the question will be whether Democrats can maintain the momentum that has now secured them the Senate — and whether Biden is the man who will lead them into the next election.
*Editor’s note: As of Nov. 21, 2022, the Republican Party has won the majority in the House of Representatives, though the size of that majority is yet to be determined.
**Editor’s note: On Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, Donald Trump announced that he would seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.