Today’s big question

US election: what winning the Georgia run-offs would mean for Biden’s presidency

Democrats on verge of taking Senate seats in victories that would swing balance of power in the upper chamber

Two closely-fought run-offs in Georgia look set to hand president-elect Joe Biden control of the US Senate after he takes office.

With 98% of the vote counted in both of the nail-biting races, Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock has beaten incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler, according to projections by US TV networks and the Associated Press. 

And Democrat Jon Ossoff has taken a narrow lead over Republican David Perdue in the second race in the southern state. 

Too close to call

The Democrats’ hopes of winning control of the Senate from the Republicans were boosted after none of the candidates in the two races in Georgia secured the minimum 50% of the vote needed to claim victory in the first round back in November.

Taking the two Senate seats from the Republicans would leave the powerful upper chamber of Congress tied at 50-50 - giving Biden’s vice president-elect Kamala Harris the deciding vote. 

The Senate has huge influence over policy and some administration and judicial appointments, and as such can stifle or embolden a president’s legislative agenda.

Sky News US correspondent Greg Milam points out that “Biden has a lot to be grateful for in the state of Georgia”. Having handed the Democrat its 16 electoral college votes in the presidential election, “Georgians could be about to give him all the power he needs to shape America for the next four years”, Milam writes.

Or to put that another way, with the Democrats already holding a slim majority in the House of Representatives, the Biden administration is on the verge of securing a stranglehold on legislative power in Washington.

Biden his time

Following the excitement of his presidential election victory, Biden is likely to have had a nervy Christmas waiting for the run-offs to get under way in Georgia.

In the run-up to polls opening, his transition team was already “eyeing a more ambitious agenda for the first 100 days of his presidency” in the event of a double win, Politico says.

But while hopes are now high that the Democrats can clinch the two key seats, insiders claim that Biden’s advisers had been “privately skeptical about Ossoff and Warnock’s chances” and were willing to “concede that the scale of their plans could change dramatically” in the event of defeat, the news site reports. 

Speaking at a drive-in rally in Atlanta on Monday, Biden underscored the importance of the two remaining Senate votes, telling Georgians that “the whole nation is looking to you”.

“Unlike any time in my career, one state can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation,” he added.

Presidential ambitions

As The Guardian notes, “Biden was the first Democratic presidential nominee in nearly three decades to win Georgia” - a historic victory that played a key role in his battle to evict Donald Trump from the White House.

And taking the Senate through two victories in a former reliably Republican state would mark another huge step for the Democrats.

The incoming president’s top priority after taking power later this month is delivering a Covid-19 financial relief package, but “Biden’s economic recovery platform has planks that many or most Republicans will oppose”, CNBC reports.

His plan includes tax increases for the country’s wealthier individuals and for corporations, and clean-energy infrastructure projects, both of which are likely to be opposed by the GOP. 

Yet with a Senate majority, Biden could be confident of passing the measures. 

Similarly, Democratic plans to breathe new life into an Obamacare-style health insurance package and to set a $15 (£11) per hour federal minimum wage will face fierce Republican opposition.

Since Biden’s victory, Democrats have “conceded the scope of the agenda is dependent on the Georgia results”, says Politico. The party’s top officials have admitted that an “ambitious government ethics reform package previously crafted by House Democrats” will also “go nowhere” if the Senate is controlled by the GOP, the site adds.

With no Democrat having won a senate seat in Georgia for more than two decades, a figure close to Biden’s transition team told Politico that a pair of victories would be “nothing short of a miracle”.

But while Biden’s team may privately have expected to lose the run-offs, they have been bearish in their spending, ploughing more than $6m (£4.3m) into the Georgia races in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee.

Power behind the throne

Although taking the two seats would help free the incoming president’s hands, Biden would still face a number of constraints.

Writing on Fox News, lawyer and lobbyist Doug Schoen suggests that regardless of the Georgia outcomes, “Biden will face a closely divided Senate that will make it difficult for him to govern”.

Stacking the balance in his party’s favour may also see Biden “face an emboldened progressive faction of Democrats intent on pushing their unpopular far-left policies”, continues Schoen, who briefly worked on Mike Bloomberg’s short-lived presidential campaign.

And should high-profile far-left figures such as veteran Senator Bernie Sanders or Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sense an opportunity, Biden could face pressure “to advance a progressive agenda that could include unpopular policies like massive tax increases, a wealth tax, and unfettered immigration policies”.

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