Every American Should Care About the Georgia Runoff
Regardless of where they live, all Americans should be concerned about the Georgia runoff election. It could have a major impact on national politics.
Last updated on December 6, 2020
Two Senate seats and control of the Senate are up for grabs. The election on Jan. 5, 2021 where Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are running against, respectively, Republican incumbent Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler is extraordinary. It will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate during unprecedented times.
Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is pictured speaking in Roswell, Georgia.
Following the November 2020 general election, Republicans hold 50 seats in the U.S. Senate; Democrats hold 48. The runoff for the remaining two seats will determine which party ends up in control. If both Democrats win, the U.S. Senate will be equally split down party lines—a favorable outcome for Democrats, as ties will be broken by Democratic Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. On the other hand, if one or both of the Democrats lose, Republicans will maintain a majority. In that event, the U.S. Senate is potentially looking at a minimum two-year stalemate (depending on outcomes in 2022 midterms), if not longer. Having two important positions determined in a runoff is historic. This is especially true in Georgia, which hasn't had a Democratic senator for 15 years. Making the race even more unusual is the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As Americans await much-needed coronavirus relief packages, the Senate will have a crucial role to play. The logistics of two runoff elections are also unprecedented, given the coronavirus pandemic. More than 762,000 Georgians have requested absentee ballots, which adds yet another unusual characteristic to the situation.
The results of the runoff could have major consequences for the direction of American politics. Because the Senate majority will be determined by who wins, the fate of American partisanship hangs in the balance.
The election could affect the transition to a Biden White House as well as have long-ranging affects on policy long after Biden's term. Depending on who prevails in Georgia's runoff, the incoming Senate could potentially prioritize questions about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results rather than prioritizing legislation related to Biden's platform. The consequences of the runoff could also impact legislation far beyond Biden's term.
Both Republicans in the Georgia runoff are aligned with Trump. If they prevail in January, they may stand with fellow Senate Republicans in backing Trump's claims that the 2020 election results were unfair or inaccurate. That may lead to a refusal to acknowledge Biden's presidency and a continuation of denying Trump's loss. This could result in unprecedented refusals to convene, legislate, and vote as a legislative body. A Republican-majority Senate may call for investigations into Trump’s claims of voter fraud and election irregularities. This could have an immediate impact on Americans who depend on Senate legislation regarding COVID-19 and other urgent priorities. However, if one or both of Georgia's Senate seats are won by the Democratic contenders, the incoming Senate might shoot down Republican attempts to prioritize investigation of the presidential election results. A federal appeals court has already dismissed Trump's lawyers allegations of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, citing a lack of evidence. These two Senate seats could also make a huge difference in what President-Elect Joe Biden can accomplish once he takes office. His ability to carry out campaign promises and get Cabinet picks confirmed will be impacted. And the political composition of the U.S. Senate could impact the nation’s laws, not just during Biden’s one or two terms, but thereafter — especially in terms of actions such as SCOTUS confirmations and proposing to revisit decisions such as Roe v. Wade or controversial legislation such as the Affordable Care Act.
How Georgia votes will decide the balance of power in American politics. Whoever wins the Georgia seats will determine who holds the reins of power in the Senate at least through the 2022 midterms and possibly longer. With a Democratic executive branch, a Democratic U.S. House of Representatives, and a Democratic Senate, the rule of law would be largely Democrat.
These two Senate races in Georgia will either tilt the scales of power toward the Democrat or the Republican parties—in a way that will reverberate throughout the American political system. There are two possible scenarios: First, the Republican Party already has 50 seats out of the Senate's total 100. If the Republicans can win one or both of the Senate seats in Georgia, they will remain the majority party, and Sen. Mitch McConnell will keep his position as majority party leader. Republicans say this outcome would provide much-needed checks and balances on a Democratic White House and a majority-Democrat House of Representatives. Democrats, however, fear that a Republican majority in the Senate could effectively block important legislation and create government gridlock. The second scenario is this: If both Democrats win, the Senate will be evenly split between the two parties. In this case, tie-breaking votes go to the Vice President—former Democratic Senator and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris—effectively turning the Senate blue. In that case, both the House, Senate, and the White House would be Democratic, a scenario that Democrats say will allow them to carry out COVID-19 relief packages and other legislation. Republicans fear there would not be enough room for dissent if this were the case. The balance of power determined by the Georgia runoff will also affect Senate's long-held tradition of filibustering. If both Democrats win in Georgia, they could effectively end the Republicans' ability to use majority rule to end debate on legislation while making Biden's legislation more filibuster-proof. However, if one or both of the Republicans win the Georgia runoff and the GOP maintains its Senate majority, Democrats' efforts will remain vulnerable to Republican filibuster.
Georgia's runoff results will have major consequences for Senate legislation that impacts Americans. The Georgia runoff outcome could dramatically affect legislation of great importance to Americans, like COVID-19 relief bills and legislation related to hot-button issues like gun control, health care, and other issues that tend to split our legislative bodies down the center.
Legislation regarding COVID-19 has been an issue in the senate. For much of 2020, politicians have been divided over party lines regarding the details of relief bills and preventative actions, resulting in delayed votes. This has slowed down aid to Americans and confused any effort to prevent the virus' spread.
The current Senate has been debating what to do about the COVID-19 pandemic since it first exploded in the U.S. in March 2020. Since then, Republican and Democratic senators have been unable to agree on how to best fight it while keeping the economy from sputtering out. Congress struggled to decide on a first round of stimulus early on in the crisis, which eventually included individual stimulus checks, aid to local businesses, and an extension of unemployment benefits. Many citizens and politicians alike decried that first bill as anemic. Since then, tensions have boiled between Republican and Democratic senators over next steps. Even relations between some Republican senators and President Donald Trump's White House have been fraught. In an attempt to secure a new aid package before the presidential elections, Trump offered a $1.8 trillion deal. Republicans criticized it as too expensive, and Democrats said it was just a ruse to smuggle in Trump's own agenda. “When the president talks about wanting a bigger relief package, his proposal appears to mean that he wants more money at his discretion to grant or withhold,” Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wrote at the time. Amid these disagreements, Congress has still been unable to secure the bipartisan support needed for a new coronavirus deal.
That legislation could remain divisive in the incoming Senate. If 2020 is any indication, 2021's incoming Senate may remain split along party lines regarding COVID-19 legislation.
As of the end of November 2020, Congress remained divided on COVID-19 relief packages. The last stimulus came last spring, and many struggling Americans are clamoring for additional help. "We are digging out of the deep hole we were in, but we're not back in the sunlight yet," said Scott Horsley, NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent, adding, "Over the last six months, the United States has regained about 54% of the jobs that were lost back in March and April." Especially as the U.S. enters a second wave of coronavirus cases coming into the winter season, agreement on a stimulus package is becoming even more crucial.
The incoming Senate will decide the fate of legislation that matters to many Americans. The incoming Senate will legislate on issues that matter a great deal to Americans and that are, for the most part, divided down party lines.
The winners of Georgia's dual Senate races will have a major impact on the fate of legislation that affects Americans' day-to-day lives or that Americans care about based on their sociopolitical stances, like gun control, health care, and immigration. A divided Senate, for instance, would have great ramifications on "antitrust enforcement, competition policy, infrastructure investment, privacy, Section 230 reforms, regulation, tax policy, and relations with China," according to a report from the Brookings Institution. Democrats have cheered the possibility of a Democratic House, Senate, and executive branch. This three-pronged majority would mean the possibility of protecting lightning rod legislation such as the Affordable Care Act and a greater chance of advancing Biden’s platform and other policies conservatives deem too radical, including gun control and increased industry regulations. It could also mean reversing Trump-era decisions regarding the southern border, travel bans, and the Paris Climate Agreement, to name a few. Republicans, meanwhile, say a majority Congress and White House will give Democrats too much power. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said a Democratic win in Georgia would be the "end of checks and balances." A Republican-controlled Senate could prevent the advancement of Biden’s Democratic platform, which many conservatives consider too liberal, too burdensome on the taxpayers, and too limiting of freedoms. By blocking Biden legislation, Senate Republicans could engender more trust with the conservative base while also potentially swaying more voters toward recognizing the merit of small government.
Depending on how the incoming Senate performs, how Americans vote could be impacted for years. Depending on who gains a majority in the Senate after the Georgia runoff, and the actions of both parties in the incoming Senate, Americans' political loyalties may be impacted in the short- and long-term.
As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) proved during former President Barack Obama's presidency, voters will change their political loyalties and votes based on how legislators handle major issues. Anger over the ACA contributed to Democrats losing control of the House of Representatives and to Republicans gaining six Senate seats in the 2010 midterms. Eight years later, the ACA's popularity led voters—angered over Republicans' continued attempts to repeal the Act—to give the House back to the Dems. Although Republicans held the Senate majority in the 2018 midterms, the ACA dictated many of the Republican candidates' campaign talking points leading up to the election, forcing them to tread a line between promises of repealing the Act and promises to keep its most popular provisions. In the November 2020 general election, the presidential candidate who promised not only to keep the ACA but expand on it, Joe Biden, prevailed over President Donald Trump, who's spent his time in office continually attacking the Act. In the course of a decade, the ACA showed that Americans were not only paying attention to what was happening in D.C., but they were voting based on how their elected representatives handled legislation that personally impacts their lives. Now, at a time when public concern has reached a fever pitch regarding personally impactful issues like COVID-19 and racial justice, and people want to know what the government intends to do about these issues, more Americans than ever are paying more attention than ever. The 2020 election saw record-setting voter turnout and greatly increased political participation overall. As people literally worry over the life-and-death repercussions of COVID-19, more Americans are keeping an eye on the political landscape and who's in charge. The incoming Senate will be under some of the most intense scrutiny any Senate has faced in generations, giving both parties an unprecedented opportunity to impact political loyalties and realities for years to come. For example, if Biden's plans can get past his opposition in the Senate and effect popular, meaningful legislation, the Democratic Party could potentially sway more Americans toward becoming and staying Democratic voters. This could be especially true if the ACA remains in effect and aids in allowing more Americans affected by COVID-19 to get the help they need. Plus, the Trump-era attrition of Republican voters in certain demographics, such as moderate Republicans and suburban women, may have a long-term positive impact on the Democratic Party's voter base. If so, the consequences for the Republican Party could be long-lasting. On the other side of the aisle, the Trump-era rise in far-right wing politics may continue, especially in the form of backlash against any Democrat attempts to place restrictions on personal freedoms (such as gun ownership and COVID-19 quarantines/lock downs), or to raise taxes to fund policies generally unpopular with the conservative base—like the ACA. Far-right wing messaging may resonate with an increasing number of voters, especially if continued or more stringent COVID-related restrictions persist and more Americans suffer financially from the pandemic's effect on the economy. Who wins Georgia's two Senate seats will help determine whether Republicans maintain their Senate majority or if the balance of power evens out. And that majority and who holds the reins of power will affect both parties' abilities to get things done and, therefore, maintain or increase their voter bases—especially with so many high stakes in the game.
The Georgia runoff is not just about Georgia: it's about the balance of power and the future of American politics. And that's something every citizen should care about.
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