A view of the U.S. Capitol’s north wing, which houses the Senate, on August 26, 2011. (Architect of the Capitol)
WASHINGTON — Democrats were poised Wednesday to gain control of the U.S. Senate after securing historic wins in two Georgia runoff elections against Republican incumbents.
Democrat Raphael Warnock defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler Tuesday and Democrat Jon Ossoff was declared the winner in his race against incumbent Sen. David Perdue on Wednesday, giving each party 50 seats in the Senate.
When President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in on Jan. 20, Democrats will have Harris to break tie votes — assuming Warnock and Ossoff have been sworn into office by then.
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Warnock will be Georgia’s first Black senator and Ossoff will be Georgia’s first Jewish senator. Both were connected to the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). Ossoff interned for Lewis, a civil rights icon, and Warnock served as his pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
“With a Biden-Harris Administration and a Senate Democratic majority, the challenges we face won’t get any less tough — but we’ve finally got the opportunity to face them head on and start taking action,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement. “I can’t wait to start getting things done.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is poised to become the next majority leader, said he had not yet spoken to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about how the Senate will be organized to conduct business with a 50-50 split. In the past the parties had cooperated in some aspects of Senate practices when the parties were split evenly, but it’s not clear if that will happen in a more polarized Senate.
“We have a lot of things to discuss,” Schumer said. “We first have to wait until the races are certified and the new senators are here and Vice President Kamala (Harris) is in the chair before we can put anything in place, but certainly we’ll have to talk.”
Schumer said the Democrats’ first goal will be to approve $2,000 emergency relief checks for Americans, a proposal that fell short in the GOP-controlled Senate despite support from President Donald Trump.
With a 50-50 Senate and Harris able to break tie votes, it is likely that Democrats will replace Republicans as committee chairmen, though nothing has been announced yet. Following are some of the potential changes in store, based on seniority and retirements:
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is the current chairwoman. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, would be in line to be chair under Democratic control.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, would be in line to be chairwoman. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas was expected to be chairman under a Republican majority, replacing Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who retired.
Among subcommittees, under GOP control Collins had been chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development panel, and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas had been chair of the Commerce-Justice-Science panel. Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy had headed up the Financial Services and General Government panel. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt had led Labor-Health-Human Services.
It’s unclear what chairmanship shuffles might happen under Democratic control, but Montana Sen. Jon Tester has had the top Democratic slot on Homeland Security.
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Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio would be in line to lead the committee under Democratic control. Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania had been the potential new chairman if Republicans remained in charge.
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North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr likely would have been chairman under a GOP majority, depending on the status of an investigation into his stock trades during the pandemic, following the retirement of Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. With Democrats in charge, the likely chair is Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
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Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio had been poised to become chairman under a GOP majority. The Democrat who’s now in line to head the committee is Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan.
It had not been entirely clear if Burr would retake his chairmanship of this panel, and if not Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would have been in line. Under Democratic control, the chair would likely be Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a former Judiciary chairman, was slated to retake control of the panel under GOP control. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois is viewed as the likely chairman with Democrats in charge, following a caucus vote in December on a rule change.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri has headed up Rules with a Republican majority. But Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota as the most senior Democrat would be in line to take over.
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Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida had been chairman under Republican control last year but it wasn’t clear he would continue there. Democrats in control likely would elevate Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland to the chairmanship.
Moran had been expected to continue as chairman under GOP control. With Democrats in the majority, Tester would take the gavel.
Reporter Laura Olson contributed to this story.
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