- 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)
Senate Democrats To Introduce Voting Rights Bill This Week
Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.
Voting Bill Set for Floor
Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.
The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.
While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.
The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.
However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.
Pathway for Filibuster Reform
Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed.
That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.
It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.
As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).
This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.
Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)
McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024
The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.
McConnell Doubles Down
During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.
“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.”
McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.
The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.
McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.
“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.
Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.
“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).
Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.
“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.
Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.
The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.
On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”
With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)
Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico
The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.
Texas Border Wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.
Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.
While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.
Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.
During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.
The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.
Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.
While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.
“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”
Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.
Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months.
Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.
Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.
The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.
During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.
“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”