Americans will have to wait to learn whether Democrats will maintain control of the House and Senate, allowing President Joe Biden to continue to enact policy and appoint judges, or whether Republicans will receive a majority in either chamber to block his agenda.
Votes were still being counted in the Arizona and Nevada Senate races hours after the polls closed Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, Georgia’s Senate race is headed to a Dec. 6 runoff election after no candidate received a majority of the vote.
Democrats picked up an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania and are favored to hold on to their seat in Arizona. That means the question of Senate control will likely be decided by the winners of the Nevada and Georgia races.
Although Republicans were heavily favored to win the House of Representatives, the much-hyped “red wave” never materialized as Democrats outperformed across the country on Tuesday. The GOP still has an edge in the lower chamber, but the outcome remains uncertain.
Election officials preemptively warned the results may not be known for days or weeks due to high voter turnout and the fact some GOP-controlled states have forbidden early counting of mail-in ballots. In 2020, it took four days after Election Day before Joe Biden was declared the winner.
Senate Republicans nominated a crop of flawed and extreme candidates this year, several of which lost on Tuesday. The party pinned their hopes on voters concerned about inflation and crime, while Democrats were banking on voters angry with the Supreme Court’s reversal of reproductive rights would carry them to victory.
Democrats also made the future of democracy a key issue in the closing days of the race. They argued that the scores of GOP election deniers who were on the ballot this year presented a critical threat that ought to be rejected before the next presidential election, especially with twice-impeached former President Donald Trump teasing another run for the White House.
An analysis by The Washington Post found that 291 Republican candidates ― a majority of GOP nominees on the ballot — have denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The winner of Senate control next year will have power over Biden’s ability to fill vacancies in his administration and on the federal courts. Biden’s Cabinet has been remarkably stable, especially compared to that of Trump. Several department heads are expected to depart in the coming months.
Biden confirmed a record number of judges in the first half of his term, a group that is more diverse than those appointed by any of his predecessors. A GOP-controlled Senate will likely put a stop to that streak and end any possibility of an appointment to the Supreme Court, should a vacancy arise.
Meanwhile, a Democratic majority would hold a stronger hand in coming negotiations over must-pass fiscal measures such as government spending and the debt limit. GOP lawmakers have already indicated that they will refuse to support a debt ceiling increase without extracting major policy concessions from Democrats such as cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The 2011 debt ceiling fight resulted in the first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. A default on the debt would be disastrous.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has strategically said little about what Republicans plan to do while in the majority, speaking only broadly about tackling inflation, the situation on the border, and crime. He said earlier this year that it would involve “a combination of contrast and some cooperation” with Democrats because Biden will still be in the White House.
But other Republicans have stepped forward with their own ideas, including Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who has proposed to downgrade the role of the federal government, drastically cut spending on social services, raise taxes on the poor and institute “race-blind” policies. Scott stoked speculation over the weekend by refusing to rule out challenging McConnell for majority leader.
A Senate takeover would also put Republicans on even better footing going into 2024, a brutal year for Senate Democrats facing reelection. They’ll have to defend seven seats in states Trump won at least once, with only two pick-up opportunities. Republicans will be hoping to run up the margins in that election, with talk of even potentially reaching a filibuster-proof majority in 2025.
Democrats’ short time in the majority was turbulent but remarkably productive. They enacted major laws whose impact will be felt for decades, including a big COVID-19 rescue package, a bipartisan infrastructure overhaul, a sweeping climate and health care bill, new funding boosting domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors, and a measure expanding veterans’ care.
But these may be their last victories for a while if Republicans win total control of Congress, and possibly the White House in 2024.