For these reasons, if I were a resident of Georgia, I would not have hesitated for a moment before voting for Ossoff and Warnock. But a double victory would, nonetheless, create serious difficulties for Democrats—and might even make it less likely for Biden to win reelection.
If Democrats enjoy full control of the government, progressives will push to advance a wish list that includes the Green New Deal, radically overhauling health care, a new Voting Rights Act, packing the Supreme Court, and granting statehood to Washington, D.C.
But even victories in Georgia wouldn’t give Democrats nearly enough power to make those kinds of changes. In the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to hold together a slim 11-vote majority that includes both democratic socialists like Cori Bush and staunch moderates like Abigail Spanberger. In the Senate, the filibuster means that any major legislation will require 60 votes—which is to say at least 10 Republican senators—to advance.
Even when a simple majority is sufficient, Democrats need every single member of their caucus, including blue-dog Democrats from deep-red states, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to get on board. And because Manchin has already said that he is not willing to abolish the filibuster, hopes for far-reaching institutional reforms really are dead on arrival.
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Most of the deeply progressive policies on which leftist activists have set their heart simply don’t enjoy a majority in the United States Congress. And even if, against the odds, Biden and his team somehow manage to push one of these projects through a recalcitrant Congress, a Supreme Court dominated by conservative judges might well quash it after the fact.
On paper, Biden looks set to gain unified control over Congress. In practice, he won’t enjoy many of its traditional benefits. But he will suffer from all of its downsides.
If Perdue or Loeffler had held on to their Senate seat, which now seems unlikely, Fox News would still have done its best to inspire vitriol against Biden. But a president who has repeatedly promised to be a restorative rather than a revolutionary figure in office, and who doesn’t even have control of the Senate, would have made it much harder for conservative talking heads to inspire fear about the radical changes afoot. If Ossoff and Warnock win, their job will get a good bit easier.
Republican control of the Senate would also have made it much simpler for Biden to manage the expectations of the party’s activist wing. If activists had pushed for progressive policies that were deeply unpopular with most Americans, Biden could truthfully have pointed to Mitch McConnell’s majority as a reason to desist. Every one of McConnell’s obstructionist moves would have delayed a civil war within the Democratic Party by another week or month.