Once the election results in Georgia are certified and Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20, the Senate will be split 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would break the tie, giving Democrats the advantage.
Schumer, who had hoped to ascend to majority leader after the 2016 cycle, acknowledged the bumpy journey but nonetheless celebrated the victory by promising “bold change” on the horizon.
“We didn’t take the most direct path to be here. But we are now here,” Schumer said Wednesday. “It feels like a brand-new day. For the first time in six years, Democrats will operate a majority in the United States Senate. And that will be very good for the American people.”
Top of Schumer’s to-do list will be passing the $2,000 stimulus checks to American families that Sens.-elect Rafael Warnock and Jon Ossoff ran on in Georgia. The House passed the extra aid, but GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the extra coronavirus help in the Senate in the final days of the last Congress, citing fiscal constraints.
Schumer is not the only Democrat with a promotion. All the committees in the Senate would also be led by Democrats who would set the agenda and hold nomination hearings for Biden’s Cabinet picks.
The power shift means that GOP-led committee investigations into Hunter Biden, for instance, would essentially die. And GOP obstruction on Biden’s judicial nominees or other priorities would be lessened.
With Republicans out of power in the House too, the Biden administration can anticipate a two-year window of friendly oversight by congressional committees.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meets virtually with incoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge on December 17, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, will be the second Black woman to hold the position, and first in the past 40 years. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Schumer talked to Biden Wednesday about the sunny outlook.
“I pledged to him that as Majority Leader, President Biden, and Vice President-elect Harris will have a partner in me and my caucus, who is ready, willing and able to help achieve a forward-looking agenda and deliver bold change to the American people,” Schumer said.
Despite progressive pushes for sweeping legislative changes, the chances of getting something like Medicare-for-All or a Green New Deal passed are very slim. That’s because most major legislation needs to overcome a 60-vote procedural threshold to advance to a final vote. Even if all Democrats are united they would need buy-in from at least 10 Republicans to pass big legislation.
There are some ways around the supermajority under a special process known as budget reconciliation to move legislation with a simple-majority vote. Republicans passed their $1.5 trillion tax legislation with budget reconciliation and no Democratic support in 2017.
The change in leadership doesn’t mean moving day for the Senate leaders, however. McConnell and Schumer don’t switch offices under longstanding tradition.
The last time the Senate was in a 50-50 split in 2001, the party leaders set up a historic power-sharing agreement. GOP aides weren’t expecting Schumer to cede any power this time around given how partisan the Senate has become in the 20 years since.
But the agreement set out had equal party representation on all Senate committees and equal division of committee staff and budgets, which could be a model for the 2021 committees.
The timeline for Democratic control is contingent on the swearing in of Ossoff and Warnock, which isn’t expected to occur until after Georgia certifies the election results. The deadline for the Georgia certification is Jan. 22.
A candidate could request a machine scanned recount by Jan. 26 if they are down by half of a percentage point. Currently, Perdue and Loeffler are not within the recount threshold.