In Georgia, Joe Biden’s presidency meets early defining moment
Two runoffs Tuesday in Georgia will decide which party controls the Senate and, thus, how far the new president can reach legislatively on issues like the pandemic, health care, taxation, energy and therefore the environment.
Usually it’s a president’s first midterm election that reorders a White House’s political approach and priorities. For President-elect Joe Biden, his most defining congressional election is coming before he takes office.
Two runoffs Tuesday in Georgia will decide which party controls the Senate and, thus, how far the new president can reach legislatively on issues like the pandemic, health care, taxation, energy and therefore the environment. For an official who sold himself to Americans as a uniter and a seasoned legislative broker, the Georgia elections will help determine whether he’s ready to live up to his billing.
“It’s not that you simply can’t get anything wiped out the minority or get everything wiped out the bulk , but having the gavel, having that leadership control are often the difference in success or failure for an administration,” said Jim Manley, once a top aide to former Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid, who held his post opposite current Senate legislator Mitch McConnell.
Both Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock must win Tuesday to separate the Senate 50-50. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, would offer the tiebreaker needed to work out control.
To be sure, even a closely divided Democratic Senate wouldn’t give Biden everything he wants. Senate rules still require 60 votes to advance most major legislation; for now, there aren’t enough Democrats willing to vary that requirement. So, no matter Georgia’s results, Biden will need to convert Republicans during a Senate where a bipartisan group of more centrist senators stand to ascertain their stock rise.
A Democratic Senate still would clear a neater path for Biden’s nominees to key posts, especially on the Federal Judiciary , and provides Democrats control of committees and far of the ground action. Conversely, a Senate led by McConnell almost certainly would deny Biden major legislative victories, because it did late in President Barack Obama’s tenure, by keeping his agenda from even getting up-or-down votes.
Biden’s team is keenly conscious of the stakes. The president-elect will visit Atlanta on Monday, the eve of the runoffs, to campaign with Ossoff and Warnock for the second time in three weeks. Biden’s campaign aides have helped raise millions to spice up the party infrastructure that helped Biden become the primary Democratic presidential nominee since 1992 to hold the state. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will campaign Sunday in Savannah.
In his last visit, Biden called Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler “roadblocks” and urged Georgians “to vote for 2 us senators who skills to mention the word ‘yes’ and not just ‘no.’”
Congressional makeup shapes any administration, but maybe even more so for Biden, who spent 36 years within the Senate, plus eight as Obama’s vice chairman and top congressional liaison. Biden leaned thereon resume to pitch himself to the country as a consensus builder; he also criticized presidents’ increased use of executive action to travel around Congress and insisted it might vary in his presidency.
Even some Republicans are hopeful. Michael Steel, once a top adviser to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, a chief Obama foil along side McConnell, blamed Obama’s Capitol Hill troubles on his personal approach to his fellow politicians. Conversely, Steel said, “President-elect Biden may be a legislator by avocation, by training, by instinct, by experience during a way that former President Obama wasn’t .”
Steel predicted Biden and McConnell, two former colleagues, can find “common ground” on infrastructure and immigration — policy areas that have stumped multiple administrations. Steel noted a couple of Republican senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio, could face tough reelection fights in 2022, potentially making them wanting to cut deals they might tout in campaigns.
Still, there’s no indication McConnell would allow consideration of other top Biden priorities, most notably a “public option” expansion of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which passed without one Republican vote when Democrats controlled both chambers on Capitol Hill . Biden’s proposed tax hikes on corporations and therefore the wealthiest Americans are also likely dead during a GOP Senate.
Biden will need his negotiating skills to navigate the left flank of his own party also . While progressives say they’ve lowered their expectations of what’s possible — even under a Democratic Senate — they still shall push Biden.
Larry Cohen, chairman of Our Revolution, the offshoot of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, said progressives will press Democrats in Congress to use the “budget reconciliation” process to figure round the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold. Cohen argued that tactic could be wont to accomplish long-sought goals like ending tax subsidies to fuel companies and enabling the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to barter as one customer with pharmaceutical companies.
Those moves, Cohen noted, could generate considerable savings, creating new revenue albeit Republicans won’t comply with any tax increases.
He also said progressives will push Biden to use executive authority. He named two initiatives Biden has involved publicly: ending new drilling on federal lands and raising the wage for federal contractors to $15 per hour, albeit Congress won’t set that floor across the economy. Another progressive priority, cancelling student debt under federal loan programs, are some things Biden has not said whether he’d be willing to aim unilaterally.
Democrats’ limited expectations about their own power, even with a possible majority, belie the exaggerated claims Republicans have utilized in the Georgia races.
In Perdue’s and Loeffler’s telling, a Democratic Senate would “rubber stamp” a “socialist agenda,” from “ending private insurance” and “expanding the Supreme Court” to adopting wholesale a “Green New Deal” that might spend trillions and lift taxes on every US household by thousands of dollars annually . Besides misrepresenting Biden’s and most Democratic senators’ policy preferences, that characterization ignores the truth of the Senate’s roster.
At one campaign stop in the week , Ossoff said Perdue’s “ridiculous” attacks “blow my mind.” He scoffed at the claim that his policy ideas, which align closely with Biden, amount to a leftist lunge. But the challenger agreed with the obligatory what proportion the Georgia runoffs matter.
“We have an excessive amount of good work to try to to ,” Ossoff said, “to be mired in gridlock and obstruction for subsequent few years.”