While you were watching the insurrection, Democrats won the US Senate
Earlier this week, we told readers to brace for a hellish week in US politics. As we saw Wednesday, when armed rioters, goaded by President Trump, stormed the Capitol building in a bid to stop the certification of Joe Biden's election win, this week's events turned out to be as infernal as billed — and then some.
But while we were (understandably) distracted, something else very big happened: Democrats won the US Senate, a political development with massive implications for Biden's legislative agenda over the next four years.
Georgia's nail-biter runoff elections. In winning runoff elections for both of Georgia's Senate seats Tuesday, Democrats succeeded in turning a historically-red state blue. Reverend Raphael Warnock will now make history as the first Black person from Georgia — and the first Black Democrat from the once-segregationist South — to be sworn in as a US Senator. Jon Ossoff, meanwhile, will be the first Jewish senator from the South since the 1970s.
But the results from Georgia will reverberate far beyond the Peach State. Democrats will now have control of the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade.
A boost for Biden. The incoming president will now have a better shot at getting (parts) of his legislative agenda through Congress. In addition, Biden's picks for federal judgeships and cabinet posts will encounter little obstruction. It's even possible that there will be a Supreme Court vacancy during Biden's term.
One of Biden's early objectives will be passing a more robust COVID relief package, something Democrats have pushed for against Republican stonewalling in the Senate. That legislation, which would dole out more generous stimulus checks — a move supported by 65 percent of American voters — could also position Democrats well ahead of what will be the usual cut-throat midterm elections in 2022.
But there are limits to what Biden can do. While Biden will now have a good chance of passing legislation on issues like health care and climate change, the Democrats' razor-thin Senate majority (it's a 50-50 tie with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie breaker vote) means that Biden will need the support of moderates on both sides of the aisle to get things done (all non-budgetary legislation requires at least 60 votes to pass in the Senate).
This means that Biden will not be able to fulfill the wishlist of progressive Democrats, whose support helped him clinch the presidency. Indeed, this is likely to deepen fissures within an already fractious Democratic party.
Progressives with massive followings, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders, will likely use their soap boxes to push for broader reform than is achievable given Biden's own centrist leanings and the limitations of a one-vote majority in the Senate. (The Democrats' majority in the House, meanwhile, is one of the slimmest in history.)
Reaching across the aisle? The dust needs to settle before we reach any meaningful conclusions about whether Trump's incessant rallying against "rigged" elections over the past few months depressed Republican turnout in traditionally-red Georgia, or what Wednesday's insurrection means for the Republican party's post-Trump future.
What we do know is that Biden plans to reach across the aisle, because he's told us — many times. But will he be able to find a handful of senators from both parties who believe that real compromise and bipartisanship is important for the country's future? And how will all that be affected by this week's events?
Biden in a bind. In a time of extreme partisanship, Biden is in a tough spot: the only way he can govern is from the center, but the center is increasingly under assault from both sides of the aisle.