WASHINGTON (AP) — For Senate Democrats, an oh-so-slim 51-49 majority never sounded so good.
Late. Raphael Warnock’s win in swing state Georgia is giving Democrats a welcome “boost,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday at the Capitol — newly convinced to sideline Trump-inspired Republicans in Congress and reach across the aisle to other GOP lawmakers to live up to bipartisan priorities with President Joe Biden.
“If we can get some two-part things done, it will of course be better for the country. And it will be better for the Republican Party,” he said.
Tuesday’s election was for one mandate onlybut Warnock’s close-fought victory provides an unexpected capstone to the mid-term elections cycle for his party. That makes it easier for Senate Democrats to organize and govern, and it gives a decisive advantage in a divided Congress when Republicans take the House.
Gone is the particularly intense political pressure of a 50-50 Senate that required all Democrats to toe the line — and allowed a single senator, notably Joe Manchin, to avoid party priorities.
When the new Congress convenes in January, the extra seat will give Senate Democrats a solid majority, giving them greater control over not just floor votes but also the committees that backfire on the legislation.
And for the most part, the days of Capitol Hill grinding to a halt waiting for Vice President Kamala Harris’ motorcade for her role in breaking the tie will be over. — especially for Biden’s nominees — which she has had to do more often than any predecessor.
“Chuck Schumer’s job is about to get a lot easier,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
After the longest evenly divided Senate in modern times, the new dynamic ensures the chamber will act as a barrier to legislation from the Republican House that Democrats disagree with — and a potential bridge to bipartisan agreement as Republicans assess the post-Trump landscape.
Although 60 votes are still needed to overcome a filibuster and advance most bills in the Senate, there will be ample room for compromise, especially if Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is eager to show voters that his party can deliver ahead of presidential and congressional elections in 2024.
McConnell was silent on Wednesday about Warnock’s victory and the new political reality.
For starters, in January, Democrats will have an easier time using their 51-49 majority for simple government tasks, including votes on Biden’s nominees for judicial and executive positions that Republicans have used as weapons.
The same applies to committee work. Democrats will now have full power to send legislation to the Senate floor, overcoming Republican objections that could drag out the process. They also want subpoena powers, which they plan to use to investigate corporate America.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had kind words for top Republicans on what has been his evenly divided panel.
“Chuck Grassley is a friend, we’ve been able to work together. And I’m confident we can do that again with Sen. Graham,” Durbin said, referring to Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who will take Grassley’s seat in the new senate.
“But,” Durbin said, “we’re in a better position to negotiate.”
Key Republicans lamented Wednesday that they missed out on the all-important 51st seat, which they blamed in large part for their loss on the party’s focus on rematching the 2020 election, which Donald Trump, the former president, lost to Biden.
“It was a losing argument,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said of the stolen election claims.
His party lost the GOP-held seat in Pennsylvania that was open due to a retirement. All Democratic incumbents won, an unexpected feat and the first for a party in power in decades.
As Republicans struggle to emerge from the midterms, Democrats intend to exploit the GOP’s Trump divisions and win over some Republicans for bipartisan projects — much the same way they did this session by passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill, a computer chip package and others.
“There are a large number of Republicans in the Senate and the House who are not MAGA,” Schumer said, referring to Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.
“It’s my intention to reach out to them” and see how both sides can work in a bipartisan way, he said.
“You say, ‘Oh, that’s never going to happen,'” Schumer said, likely answering skeptics. “Well look what happened this summer with 50-50.”
Schumer declined to outline the party’s agenda for the new term, saying it’s still a work in progress. Both parties are expected to take their annual retreat at the start of the year to gather their priorities.
“It just gives us a boost — the fact that we got the 51 votes,” Schumer said.
Late. Bernie Sanders, the influential Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said the increased majority will make it “much easier to move forward in a progressive way.”