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Democrats keep Senate control ahead of Georgia runoff

Pennsylvania is the only state in which a seat has flipped so far

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., speaks at the Broadacres Marketplace in North Las Vegas on Oct. 23. Her projected win means Democrats will have a Senate majority regardless of the outcome of a Georgia runoff next month.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., speaks at the Broadacres Marketplace in North Las Vegas on Oct. 23. Her projected win means Democrats will have a Senate majority regardless of the outcome of a Georgia runoff next month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats will keep their Senate majority in the 118th Congress, even if they lose a runoff election in Georgia, though winning that race could make running the chamber easier next year.

A day after Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly‘s race in Arizona was called, Catherine Cortez Masto won her race in Nevada, assuring the Senate Democratic caucus at least 50 members in 2023, counting the two independents who conference with the party.

Cortez Masto’s race with Republican Adam Laxalt was called at 9:44 p.m. Saturday, when she led by 0.5 percentage points. CNN and NBC had called the race moments earlier. Kelly’s win was called Friday, when he was leading Republican Blake Masters by 6 percentage points.

Only one Senate seat has flipped so far, the result of Pennsylvania Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s defeat of Republican Mehmet Oz. Fetterman will succeed retiring Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa. Still pending is the ranked choice voting process in Alaska, but the top two finishers, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and challenger Kelly Tshibaka, are both Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Saturday night that Democrats won with strong candidates and accomplishments including legislation to cap the price of some prescription drugs, fund infrastructure and foster a microchip industry to compete with China. He also said Republicans ran flawed challengers “who had no faith in democracy, no fidelity to truth or honor.”

“The American people rejected, soundly rejected, the anti-democratic, authoritarian, nasty and divisive direction the MAGA Republicans wanted to to take our country,” Schumer said. He said a Democratic Senate would be “a firewall against the nationwide abortion ban threat so many Republicans talked about.”

House control remains uncalled, but if Republicans do take the House majority, the next two years could look like something of a mirror image of the last two years of the Donald Trump presidency. The Senate will have plenty of time to prioritize confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nominations, including lifetime seats on the federal bench.

“The Senate is in the personnel business” is a familiar saying of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and the operation of the Senate next year may resemble the nomination-focused chamber McConnell ran when Democrats controlled the House with Trump in the White House.

There’s space for some Republican victories, with a Senate that will see, at most, a 51-49 Democratic majority. There may be enough crossover votes for agreement with the House on efforts to try to block Biden administration rule makings through the expedited disapproval process under the Congressional Review Act, which provides for consideration of disapproval resolutions without the threat of a filibuster.

But Biden could veto those resolutions, making any victories symbolic.

Despite some complaints from Republican senators in recent days calling for leadership elections to be delayed, there is no expectation that will happen.

The Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker remains significant, though not as much as if control of the Senate were on the line. Still, there are significant differences in Senate operations between those in a deadlocked chamber with the vice president as a tie-breaking vote and one with even the slimmest of actual majorities.

In a 50-50 Senate, operating precedents provide for equal membership on committee rosters, and committee rules generally require a majority vote for issuing of a subpoena without approval of the ranking member. Therefore, with just a one-seat advantage, Democratic committee chairs would yield additional powers.

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