Commentary: Senator Superlative Awards
Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker in last week’s runoff election in Georgia and gave Democrats a 51-49 majority in the Senate. You may be thinking that they already had a majority with the vote of Vice President Harris, and you would be right. But Warnock’s win means a great deal more than just one extra seat for Democrats.
It spares Georgia the embarrassment of having the most ignorant senator. That distinction will remain with Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who said the three branches of government are the “president, the House and the Senate,” and who supports the brave “Uranians,” who are fighting the Russians. But I digress.
It also spares Georgia the embarrassment of having the most ridiculous senator. There is a lot of competition for this, but our own Senator Josh Hawley is a leading contender, with his January 6 Fist Pump and Capitol Hallway Boogie, his concern that American males are a vanishing species –the list goes on. But I digress.
A 51st Senate Democrat makes it much easier for Democrats to navigate the arcane Senate rules that allow Republicans to delay and obstruct appointment confirmations and other business. For example, the Democrats’ project of getting as many progressive federal judges confirmed as possible during the next two years just got much easier. It also gives them full leadership of committees.
Also, the obstructionist power of the two renegade Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of WV and Krysten Sinema of AZ, has been significantly neutralized. Vice President Harris will no longer need to be on call for her tie-breaking vote and can move around the country and the world more freely on behalf of the Biden administration. Sinema recently became an independent but as long as she does not become a Republican, the new balance is unaffected.
Senate vacancies occur, and governors make appointments to fill them until the next election. There are eleven Democratic senators in states with Republican governors, who can and would appoint Republicans to fill vacancies. That extra seat means a flip caused by a filled vacancy would not cost Democrats their majority, as happened to Republicans in 2001.
Also, it gives Democrats a little breathing space in 2024, when most of the vulnerable Senate seats are held, and must be defended by, Democrats.
There is also one more remote but interesting possibility. In January Republicans will have the majority in the House of Representatives by one of the smallest margins in history. It is far from clear that if – not when -- Kevin McCarthy is elected speaker, Republicans will have actual control of House business. It is possible that some Freedom Caucus MAGA members will play Sampson in the Temple and keep the House in chaos. Some of them may start, for example, by nominating Donald Trump for speaker. There’s nothing in the Constitution to prevent it.
Some moderate Republicans might say enough is enough and switch parties. Moderate Republicans could all caucus in a phone booth – remember phone booths? – but it wouldn’t take many. In this bizarre scenario by February Democrats could have control of both houses of Congress again.
Joe Biden is Irish and he has an Irishman’s Luck right now.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.