Q & A: Georgia Senate Runoff Elections

GSPM’s Casey Burgat discussed the political and policy implications of the two Democratic Senate victories that led to the party’s control over both houses of Congress.

Newly elected Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), pictured in August 2020.
Newly elected Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). Democrats won Georgia’s two runoff races, held Jan. 5, and, with them, control of the U.S. Senate. (Gerri Hernandez/Wikimedia)
January 11, 2021

Casey Burgat, director of the legislative affairs program and assistant professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, spoke with GW Today about the Democrats’ two victories in Georgia runoff elections for two seats in the U.S. Senate—victories that gave the Democratic Party control over not only the Senate but also the House of Representatives and the White House.

Here is what he had to say:

Q: Aside from determining which political party will control the Senate, what are the other important implications of this race?

A: This election’s political impacts are probably more meaningful than the policy impacts in that the Republicans have to come to terms with the reality that they lost Georgia—a historically reliably conservative state—at both the presidential and senatorial levels. It shows that the map may be widening for Democrats and contracting for Republicans.

As for policy, Democrats controlling the Senate mostly means that President-Elect Joe Biden will have an easier time with Senate confirmations, both on his executive branch nominees and for the hundreds of federal court vacancies, especially the Supreme Court, should a vacancy arise.

Q: Is Georgia turning blue?

Democrats certainly hope so and given their sweep in statewide Georgia races they have reasons to be optimistic.

But we don't know how reliable the votes will be in the future, particularly when a historically unpopular president is not on the ballot driving up voter attention. Also, the stakes of the Senate races determining the Senate majority definitely had an impact on turnout that will not be there in the future. 

Q: How is the congressional Democratic majority likely to impact the implementation of Mr. Biden’s agenda in areas such as healthcare, the environment, government reform and the economy?

A: Even though Democrats have unified government, there isn't likely to be huge, controversial policy changes passed in the 117th Congress. The majorities are simply too small and given that the Senate still has the filibuster—which effectively requires 60 votes for a policy to pass—there aren't enough Democrat votes to get things through unless Republicans are willing to join them. Given their policy differences on the more controversial issues, that's not likely to happen.

Q: What effect will the results of this race have on the unity of the Republican party?

A: Even before the results of the Georgia U.S. Senate elections, the Republican party knew that they have some work to do with the two wings of the party—the Trump, populist wing and the more traditional, mainstream conservative wing.

As we have seen in recent days, the Trump wing is willing to go after the more traditional wing when they feel they are not being sufficiently loyal. The fact that Democrats control the Senate means that Democrats can force issues onto the agenda, especially with committee hearings, in an effort to showcase and expand the divisions within the Republican party.

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