Two Georgia Runoffs Will Decide the Fate of the Senate
- Both Senate seats in Georgia are headed for a runoff that is expected to decide control of the Senate.
- If Democrats flip both seats, the chamber will be divided 50-50, and as the vice president serves as the tiebreaker in split decisions, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could be the deciding vote, effectively giving Democrats control of the Senate.
- The runoffs are set for Jan. 5, meaning the election will not be over and the Senate will not be decided until then, prompting many people on both sides to encourage Americans to stay actively engaged in politics.
- Democrats are trying to use the momentum they have and frame the race as a chance to win the Senate and push Joe Biden’s agenda — specifically on healthcare, which is a very important issue among Georgia voters.
- Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to spin the races as the last line of defense against far-left policymaking.
Georgia’s Senate Runoffs
Georgia is now slotted to determine whether Democrats or Republicans will control the Senate after every candidate in both of the state’s two Senate races failed to win more than 50% of the vote required under Georgia law, automatically triggering runoff elections on Jan. 5 to decide the crucial seats.
The unusual position comes after an uncommon election season in the peach state. Usually, Senate elections are staggered, but in addition to the normally scheduled race, Georgia voters were also deciding the outcome of a special election.
That special election took place after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Republican Kelly Loeffler last year to fill the seat that was left by long-serving Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired before his term was up due to health reasons.
Loeffler is facing off against the Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat and the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was formerly Martin Luther King Jr.’s congregation.
Meanwhile, in the normally-scheduled race, Republican Senator David Perdue is running to be re-elected to the seat he won in 2014. He is facing off against Democrat Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist and former House candidate.
Senate Still Up For Grabs
With the presidential election firmly decided for former Vice President Joe Biden, the two Georgia Senate races have become the new focal point for politicians and activists all over the country.
Right now, the next Senate class is split 48-48 along party lines with four seats, including the two in Georgia, not yet called.
Notably, the other two uncalled seats, which are in Alaska and North Carolina, are also both currently held by Republicans. While the seat in North Carolina is still fairly close, both incumbents are expected to win their re-election races.
Assuming that happens, Republicans would then hold 50 seats in the next session, meaning they would have to pick up at least one of the runoffs in Georgia to keep their majority.
If Democrats win both seats the Senate will be evenly divided 50-50.
Under the Constitution, when the Senate is split on a vote, the vice president becomes the tiebreaker, meaning that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would act as that 51st vote on any and all split decisions, effectively giving Democrats control over the Senate.
Following the news that both races would officially be headed into runoffs, people on both sides of the aisle took to social media over the weekend to say the fight is not yet over.
On the Democratic side, many tried to capitalize on the momentum Democrats have from President Donald Trump’s defeat.
“The best thing we could do for Joe is to get him a Democratic Senate,” tweeted former Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang. “There should be coordination of resources. Everyone who campaigned for Joe should get ready to head to Georgia. I’ll go. It’s the only way to sideline Mitch and give Joe a unified government.”
Others also pushed similar messages while praising former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams for her role in turning out the vote, registering hundreds of thousands of voters, and (with the help of other organizers) generally mounting an unprecedented, sustained voter outreach campaign.
After losing the gubernatorial election in 2018 to Kemp in a race that was chock full of some of the most blatant voter suppression in modern history and believed by many to be illegitimate, Abrams devoted her work to reaching out to disenfranchised voters, turning out Black voters who are traditionally targeted by Republican suppression efforts, and flipping undecided white voters, among many, many other things.
Since 2018, she has registered over 800,000 new voters, a massive feat that seemed to sway both the presidential election in the state and both Senate races. While many sung her praises, Abrams herself has been encouraging people to keep up the momentum.
Speaking on CNN Sunday, she encouraged organizers and activists to keep up the hard work and said she believed both runoffs were winnable.
“We will have the investment and the resources that have never followed our runoffs in Georgia for Democrats,” Abrams added. “And number three, this is going to be the determining factor of whether we have access to health care and access to justice in the United States.”
Democrat and Republican Strategy
That last point is very notable because in addition to trying to use this momentum they already have, Democrats are also setting up these runoffs as a bid for unity and a referendum on the state of healthcare in America.
Healthcare and healthcare access are massively important issues for Georgia voters for a number of reasons. Georgia is one of the few states that did not expand Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the coronavirus has been especially bad in Georgia, in part due to a lack of access to healthcare.
On top of all of that, the Supreme Court is set to hear the latest challenge to the ACA Tuesday in the first real test for the newly-seated Amy Coney Barrett, who has openly voiced her opposition to Obamacare in the past.
With the very real possibility that at least parts of the ACA will be rolled back, both Ossoff and Warnock are expected to capitalize on the fact that millions of Americans could lose their healthcare during a pandemic because of a judge that Republican Senators forced through a week before the election for a president who lost his re-election.
To that point, the Democrats are also expected to frame this as a chance to give Biden the Senate, and thus allow him to advance his healthcare agenda.
“It may be the slimmest of majorities, but it would make a very, very big difference to the ability of a President Biden to build on the ACA and follow through on the affordability and coverage pieces of his agenda,” Maura Calsyn, managing director of health policy at the Center for American Progress explained.
However, on the other side, Republicans have been framing these two races as the last opportunity to stop the Democrats left-wing agenda.
In a series of tweets posted over the last few days, Loeffler claimed that she and Perdue are “the last line of defense against the radical left” and “the last line of defense against socialism.”
Many Republicans also outlined what they believed to be the Democratic agenda, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who claimed the Democrats would defund the police and approve the Green New Deal among other things, despite the fact that Biden has repeatedly said he will not defund police departments or approve the Green New Deal as proposed.
As for what happens with these absolutely essential races, it is still very much up in the air. While it is almost certain that both parties will pour record amounts of money into these races, it remains unclear if the momentum seen in the state during the general election will translate to high turnout for either party during a special election.
Traditionally, it is almost always much harder to convince voters to turn out for elections that do not also have a presidential contest. On top of that, there is also a lot of election exhaustion, as well as the fact that we are still in a pandemic that may very well get much worse before January.
All of these factors are especially concerning for Democrats because historically, they have struggled with winning runoffs in the state. According to The New York Times, Democrats have only won one of the seven runoffs held in the state since the 1990s.
However, that is also in large part due to a much bigger structural problem. As The Times also notes, Georgia’s law requiring runoffs in races where no candidate gets above 50% “was created in the 1960s as a way to preserve white political power in a majority-white state and diminish the influence of Black politicians who could more easily win in a multicandidate race with a plurality of the vote.”
As for how the current results look, Perdue is leading Ossoff quite handily with about a 90,000 vote-lead. In the special, Loeffler is losing to Warnock by seven points, though that is in large part because another Republican candidate who was allowed to run in the primary but will not be in the special siphoned off a huge chunk of the votes.
While it is possible many of those votes would go to Loeffler now that the other Republican is out, keep in mind that she was an appointee, and not someone elected by the people, so her race will likely be more difficult than Perdue’s.
Regardless of what happens, this race is a good reminder that the election is not over. If you are a voter in Georgia and you are already registered, you can request your mail-in ballot now by going to the Georgia Secretary of State website.
If you are not yet registered, you can still do so by Dec. 7 through the same page. If you are 17 now but will be 18 by Jan. 5, you can register to vote in the runoff. For more resources, go to fairfight.com.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
White House Endorses Bipartisan Senate Bill That Could Ban TikTok
The measure does not target TikTok specifically but instead would set up a framework to crack down on foreign products and services that present a national security threat.
The RESTRICT Act
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow the federal government to restrict or even outright ban TikTok and other technologies produced by foreign companies.
Under the legislation, dubbed the RESTRICT Act, the Commerce Department would have sweeping authority to identify and regulate technologies that pose a risk to national security and are produced by companies in six “foreign adversary” countries: China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea.
In other words, the proposal would not explicitly ban TikTok, but instead creates a path for future prohibitions on the Chinese-owned platform.
While the bill’s text does not specifically mention TikTok, the group of senators made it clear that the app is their number one target, directing most of their criticism to the platform in statements announcing the measure.
The legislation, however, would go way beyond TikTik: it is also designed to prepare for future situations where apps or technologies from an “adversary” country become popular in the U.S.
The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Ma.), echoed that point in his remarks Tuesday.
“Today, the threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the U.S.,” he said. “Before TikTok, however, it was Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. And before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government and corporate devices.”
“We need a comprehensive, risk-based approach that proactively tackles sources of potentially dangerous technology before they gain a foothold in America, so we aren’t playing Whac-A-Mole and scrambling to catch up once they’re already ubiquitous.”
Proponents of the bill also hope that, given the broad scope of the legislation, it will gain more traction than past proposals that zeroed in on TikTok. Support for the measure was further bolstered when the White House announced it would back the move shortly after it was rolled out.
“This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk.”
A Bumpy Road Ahead
Despite the bipartisan push, there are still some hurdles for the RESTRICT Act to overcome.
Although the legislation does not directly ban TikTok, because that is clearly its intent, the same issues with an outright prohibition still stand. One of the most serious concerns is that banning TikTok would violate the First Amendment.
There is past precedent on this front: in 2020, a federal magistrate judge blocked the Trump administration from requiring Apple and Google to take the Chinese-owned app WeChat off their app stores.
In that decision, the judge argued that the government only had “modest” evidence about the app’s risks and that removing it from app stores would “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government’s significant interest in national security.”
TikTok has emulated that argument. In a statement responding to the RESTRICT Act Tuesday, a spokesperson for the company said the legislation could “have the effect of censoring millions of Americans.”
Meanwhile, even if the act does pass, there is also the question of whether the Biden administration would decide on a full-scale ban.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo would be the one responsible for overseeing the process under the bill, and while she said she said in a statement that she “welcomed” the proposal and promised to work with Congress to pass it, she has also previously expressed hesitation for a full prohibition.
On the other end of the equation, there are concerns that this measure will not ultimately get enough bipartisan support from Republicans who do want an outright ban and will refuse to accept anything that falls short of that.
While speaking with Fox News on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said the new plan did not go far enough and argued that Congress “should pass a bill that bans TikTok.”
Even if the legislation does get enough support in the Senate, its path is unclear in the GOP-held House, where it also does not yet have a companion bill. Republicans in the House recently introduced a measure that would give the president the power to unilaterally ban TikTok in the U.S.
That proposal, however, is not bipartisan like the RESTRICT Act, which will be a key test to see if legislators can find a middle ground on the matter.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (NBC News)
What You Need to Know About Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Race — The Most Important Election in 2023
Gerrymandering, abortion, the 2024 presidential election, and much more are on the line.
An election to fill an empty seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that has been described as the most consequential race of 2023 has now been narrowed to two candidates after the primary Tuesday.
Liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz easily took first place, winning 46.4% of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting. In second place with 24.2% was conservative Daniel Kelly, a former Wisconsin State Supreme Court justice who was appointed by the state’s then-Republican governor in 2016 but lost his re-election in 2020.
Notably, the wide discrepancy in votes can be explained by the fact that Kelly split Republican ballots with another conservative candidate who came in a close third with 21.9%. As such, the general election is expected to be tight.
Also of note, this race is technically supposed to be non-partisan, but Protasiewicz has closely aligned herself with Democrats and Kelly has done the same with Republicans. Both parties, as well as dark money groups, have poured millions of dollars into the high-stakes election that will determine whether liberals or conservatives will have a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court at an incredibly consequential time.
There are a number of paramount issues at play here that have widespread implications not just for Wisconsin but America at-large.
Gerrymandering and Elections
Wisconsin is one of the most important swing states in the country: it helped decide the outcomes of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and it is the center of debates on gerrymandering and free and fair elections that have played a role in those races.
The state Supreme Court, which has had a conservative majority for the last 14 years, has been instrumental in shaping those policies, having weighed in on many of the most crucial topics and almost always siding with Republicans.
For example, in what VICE described as “arguably the most important decision the court made in recent years,” the court ruled 4-3 last year to uphold one of America’s most gerrymandered maps that gave Republicans a massive advantage.
“The maps are so gerrymandered that Republicans hold six of Wisconsin’s eight House seats and nearly two-thirds of legislative seats in the state—even though Democrats won most statewide races last year,” the outlet reported.
That ruling created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the conservative majority court has decided so many critical topics because the state government is deadlocked with a Republican majority in the legislature and a Democratic governor.
So, by approving a map that massively favored Republicans, the conservative court kept that system in place, ensuring that they would continue to have the final say on so many of these essential areas.
However, if Protasiewicz wins the general election, the court is all but certain to revisit the gerrymandered map. Protasiewicz, for her part, explicitly stated in a recent interview that a liberal majority could establish new election maps. Kelly, meanwhile, has said he has no interest in revisiting the maps.
A decision unfavorable to the GOP-drawn maps would have significant implications for the internal politics of Wisconsin and control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a very slim five-seat majority.
To that point, the Wisconsin Supreme Court also plays a big role in how the state’s elections are administered and how its ten Electoral College votes will be doled out in the 2024 presidential election.
Last year, the conservative court banned absentee ballot drop boxes, and in 2014, it upheld a GOP voter ID law that studies have shown suppressed Black voters. While the court did vote against considering former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit to try and overturn the 2020 election in Wisconsin, it only did so by a thin margin of 4-3.
The court will very likely be tasked with wading into elections-related cases in the coming years. Already, it is anticipated that the justice will hear a lawsuit by a conservative group aiming to further limit voting access by banning mobile and alternate voting facilities.
Abortion and Other Important Statewide Subjects
In addition to the ramifications for America broadly, there are also plenty of paramount issues concerning the state Supreme Court that will materially impact the people of Wisconsin.
Much of the race has been centered heavily on the topic of abortion and reproductive rights because the composition of the court will almost positively determine whether or not abortion will be legal for the state’s six million residents.
Following the Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, an 1849 Wisconsin law banning abortion went back into effect. Currently, a lawsuit against the ban is winding its way through the court system, and it is all but assured that battle will eventually go before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
Experts and analysts say that if Kelly wins, it is essentially guaranteed that abortion will remain illegal in almost all cases. Protasiewicz, by contrast, has campaigned extensively on abortion rights and vocally supported the right to choose.
Beyond that, there are also several other major issues the court will likely rule on in the coming years. For example, Protasiewicz has also said she believes a liberal majority could reverse a 12-year-old law that basically eliminated collective bargaining for public workers. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Everything is at stake, and I mean everything: Women’s reproductive rights, the maps, drop boxes, safe communities, clean water,” Protasiewicz told VICE. “Everything is on the line.”
See what others are saying: (VICE) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)
Republicans Want to Cut Food Stamps — Even As Pandemic-Era Programs Wind Down
Experts say cuts to food stamps could have a devastating impact on the 41 million Americans who rely on the program.
GOP Weighs SNAP Cuts in Budget
In recent weeks, top Republican lawmakers have floated several different ideas for cutting food stamp benefits.
Earlier this month, Republicans now leading the House Budget Committee flagged food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP — as one of the ten areas they would support cuts to in their new budget proposal.
In a memo, the panel argued that stricter work requirements would “save tens of billions,” while a more rigid verification process for applicants would limit waste, fraud, and abuse. The idea comes as part of a broader effort to reduce the federal deficit.
Experts, however, say the proposed changes could result in debilitating cuts for the 41 million Americans who rely on food stamps and exacerbate an ongoing hunger crisis at a time when inflation has sent food prices rising.
SNAP provides low-income households with an average of around $230 a month for groceries. For many of those families who are also the most impacted by inflationary price increases across the board, that money is absolutely essential.
Experts have also noted that any additional cuts to SNAP would be especially harmful because Republicans are still proposing new cuts despite the fact that Congress already agreed just two months ago to end a pandemic-era program that had increased benefits in some states.
Under the pandemic policies, SNAP was expanded so households could receive maximum benefits instead of benefits based on income testing while also giving bigger payouts to the lowest-income Americans.
That expansion is now set to expire in March, and according to the anti-hunger advocacy group the Food Research and Action Center, an estimated 16 million households will see their per-person benefits drop by around $82 a month.
The Farm Bill Debate
Even if Republicans do not end up cutting SNAP in the budget, the program may still be in hot water.
While raising the debt limit is at the forefront of ongoing partisan battles at the moment, there is already a fight shaping up over another essential piece of legislation: the farm bill.
The farm bill is a package that has to be updated and reauthorized every couple of years. One of the most important legislative tasks Congress is responsible for, the farm bill includes many important subsidies and programs that are imperative to America’s food systems, farms, and much more.
SNAP is among the nutrition-based programs that fall under the purview of the farm bill, and Republicans have already tossed around the idea of cutting food stamp benefits in their ongoing negotiations.
Those debates are quite forward-looking, though it is normal for such discussions to occur early during a year in which Congress is charged with passing the farm bill. Lawmakers have until Oct. 1 to either enact a new version or agree on some kind of extension.