Stand up for the facts!
Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.
I would like to contribute
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock managed to fend off his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, and reclaim his Senate seat in Georgia's runoff election.
Now, Senate Democrats will have a 51-49 edge in the chamber, rather than an evenly split chamber needing Vice President Kamala Harris' votes to break ties. What does this mean in practical terms? It gives Democrats a modest advantage in a couple of areas, experts say.
Although Democrats had already secured the seats necessary to maintain their majority in the upper chamber prior to the runoff between Warnock and Walker, the Democratic incumbent’s runoff win provided much-needed breathing room for the party — and the White House.
"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 said weeks ahead of Georgia's runoff election. "The bigger the numbers, the better."
Here, we'll examine what the Democrats' outright Senate majority will mean for the rest of Biden's term and Republican control of the U.S. House.
During the Biden presidency’s first two years, the most moderate members of the Democratic caucus, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, had significant leverage over the party’s agenda, because their votes were crucial to passing bills. Some Democrats chafed at the two senators’ outsized role and blamed them for curbing proposals that had strong support with most other Senate Democrats.
With 51 votes, Senate Democrats can afford to lose Sinema or Manchin on a given vote. This newfound advantage is not all-encompassing; it comes into play only when the Senate votes on judicial or executive branch appointments, or when a once-a-session procedure known as reconciliation is used.
In both of those scenarios, only a simple majority is required.
The same logic applies for ordinary illnesses or absences: The Democrats’ ability to approve nominations would not be torpedoed by a single member’s illness. And it also applies when a very progressive senator, such as Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, doesn’t want to follow the party’s position.
That said, most other legislative business requires 60 votes to proceed to a final vote, meaning that at least nine Republican votes will still be needed when Democrats seek to pass ordinary legislation.
During the last Congress, when the Senate had a 50-50 tie broken by Harris, the chamber's committees were evenly split, sometimes forcing Democrats to use special maneuvers to bring nominations to the floor when such actions stalled in committee.
Now, Democrats can assume greater control of Senate committees, allowing them a freer hand in advancing Biden's picks, avoiding impasses on legislation and issuing subpoenas.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told NBC in November that a larger majority would allow the Biden administration to build on its "historic pace of judicial confirmations and ensure the federal bench better reflects the diversity of America."
The ratio on committees is not fixed under Senate rules. Rather, it results from negotiations between the majority and minority leaders. However, in recent 51-49 chambers, such as those from 2003 to 2005 and 2007 to 2009, the majority party typically held a one-seat advantage on committees, according to the Congressional Research Service, a public policy institute.
Democrats could use their majority on committees to continue the current House investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol or launch new ones, Axios reported. The House’s Jan. 6 committee is scheduled to end in January after releasing its final report.
Not quite, but she’s close. Adams cast 29 tie-breaking votes during his eight years as vice president under George Washington. Harris cast 26 votes in just two years in office, some of which enabled the confirmation of a half-dozen nominees.
With Harris able to take a less intensive role in the Senate, she’ll have more time to travel on administration business and build her political profile.
The contemporary Senate is, by historical standards, old. The average age of senators at the beginning of 2021 was 64.3 years — the oldest in history.
If the chamber were tied and a Democratic member died, the Democrats would fall into minority status, at least until a successor was appointed or elected. (The rules of succession vary by state.) And the successor could well be a Republican.
With their current 51 seats, however, Democrats would maintain their majority in that scenario. If a Republican governor replaced the deceased Democrat with an appointed Republican, the chamber would still be tied 50-50 and Harris would break the tie.
Warnock's victory provides Democrats with some additional cushion ahead of a potentially dismal 2024 election cycle, in which 23 of their seats are up for re-election.
Three seats are particularly vulnerable — those held by Democrats in solidly red states, namely Manchin in West Virginia, Jon Tester in Montana, and Sherrod Brown in Ohio. The Democrats will also have to defend seats in battleground states such as Arizona (Sinema), Nevada (Jacky Rosen), and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin).
"Democrats have twice the number of seats up as Republicans, and Democratic incumbents look more vulnerable," said Steven S. Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2024, he said, "it is possible that the Democrats will lose the Senate and capture the House."
The White House, Remarks by President Biden in press gaggle, Nov. 13, 2022
Congressional Research Service, Senate Committee party ratios: 98th-117th Congresses, April 16, 2022
Axios, Georgia runoff holds key to Senate subpoena power, Dec. 1, 2022
Senate.gov, Occasions when vice presidents have voted to break tie votes in the Senate, accessed Dec. 6, 2022
Senate.gov, Votes to break ties in the Senate, accessed Dec. 6, 2022
Sabato’s Crystal Ball, "The future shape of the Senate," July 16, 2020
The White House, Remarks by Vice President Harris in a keynote address at the 2022 Texas Democratic Party Johnson-Jordan Reception, Oct. 9, 2022
The Washington Post, This Senate is the oldest in American history. Should we do anything about it, June 2, 2021
The Associated Press, Democrats kept the Senate this year, but 2024 may be harder, Nov. 28, 2022
Email interview with Steven S. Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Dec. 6, 2022