With 51 seats, the Democratic majority will no longer need to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris to break tie votes.
Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won election to a full six-year term in the Senate on Tuesday, defeating Republican candidate and former pro football player Herschel Walker in a runoff election. Despite GOP predictions of a “red wave,” the result will give Democrats a one-seat gain for the 2022 midterm elections and a more comfortable 51-49 Senate majority.
Warnock, who was elected in January 2021 to fill the final two years of the late Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-GA) unexpired term, received more votes than Walker in the November election. But under Georgia’s unusual rules requiring an outright majority, he had to run against Walker again in a runoff.
Walker faced significant scrutiny over the course of the campaign for his history of lying, his incoherent statements about policy, his admission that he was “accountable” for alleged domestic abuse, and multiple ex-girlfriends claiming that he paid for them to have abortions despite his virulently anti-abortion rhetoric.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Whip John Thune, and other Senate Republicans publicly cast doubt on Walker’s viability as a candidate in 2021, but many flip-flopped and endorsed him after former President Donald Trump endorsed his candidacy. Walker had worked for Trump previously, both as a failed contestant on the "Celebrity Apprentice" television show and as a player in the now-defunct United States Football League.
Warnock’s victory will make a significant difference.
Since January 2021, the Senate has been evenly split, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Because Vice President Kamala Harris can break tie votes, the Democratic Party is considered the majority party in the Senate and has been able to take some action confirming nominees and passing budget reconciliation bills without GOP support.
Under a power-sharing agreement in the current Congress, all committees are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. While the Democratic majority can vote to discharge nominees and legislation from committee in cases of tie votes, this means hours of wasted floor time. Republicans forced discharge votes dozens of times, even knowing the Democrats would ultimately prevail.
Republicans also stalled and even blocked some nominations by simply boycotting committee hearings and denying the necessary quorum to hold any vote at all.
With the 2022 elections now complete, Democrats will hold an outright Senate majority starting in January. Every single Democratic incumbent was reelected and Democrat John Fetterman won an open seat in Pennsylvania previously held by a Republican.
This means Democrats will also likely gain a majority of seats on Senate committees and the ability to more efficiently run the Senate floor.
With 51 seats, Democrats will also have a bit of leeway in case a member of the caucus is absent. In the current Congress, a single sick Democratic senator temporarily leaves the party without the ability to move forward on anything without Republican help.
For example, the Senate had to spend valuable floor time in September holding a re-vote to confirm Judge Arianna Freeman to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit after two Democratic senators missed the original vote.
It will also mean that a single Democratic senator will no longer have the unilateral power to thwart the will of the rest of the caucus on policy and personnel decisions.
“It’s always better with 51, because we’re in a situation where you don’t have to have an even makeup of the committees,” President Joe Biden told the Associated Press in November. “And so that’s why it’s important, mostly. But it’s just simply better. The bigger the numbers, the better.”
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.