Democrats took control of the Senate when three new members, Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and California’s Alex Padilla were sworn in.
WASHINGTON – Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were sworn into the Senate Wednesday, officially giving Democrats control of the chamber as President Joe Biden aims to push through his legislative agenda.
The senators were sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, one of her first actions as vice president hours after she and Biden celebrated their inauguration. Harris, who resigned the Senate this week before her inauguration, also swore in her replacement: Democrat Alex Padilla, California’s first Latino senator.
Harris read a certificate noting Padilla was chosen to replace her and chuckled as she read aloud her own name, referring to herself as a former senator. “Yeah, that was very weird,” Harris said as fellow senators laughed.
After Harris administered the oath of office on the Senate floor, all three new Democrats signed their names in a large, bound oath book.
The power shift marks the first time Democrats have controlled the upper chamber since 2014 and the first time in a decade that Democrats will control the House, Senate and White House. The last time was in 2011 under President Barack Obama.
The new Democrats will give the chamber a 50-50 split, which effectively hands Democrats the majority because Harris – who as vice president serves as the president of the Senate – will be the tiebreaking vote.
Ossoff, who unseated Republican David Perdue, took his oath using a book of Hebrew scripture. His office said the book was once owned by Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, a civil rights leader who led Atlanta’s oldest and most prominent Jewish synagogue, The Temple.
The 33-year-old senator is the youngest member of the chamber and the first Jewish person to serve Georgia in the Senate.
Warnock, who unseated Republican Kelly Loeffler, similarly made history. The pastor, who served at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church – where Martin Luther King Jr. served before his assassination – is the first Black senator to represent Georgia and the 11th Black senator in U.S. history.
Hours before the pair were sworn in, Ossoff and Warnock sat next to one another at Biden’s inauguration. “This is an affirmation of the democratic process in the United States, the peaceful transfer of power,” Ossoff said at the celebration.
He said he was ready to start his work in the chamber. “I’m really looking forward to getting down to work and delivering the kind of investment in public health and vaccine distribution and the direct economic relief that people send us here to fight for,” Ossoff said.
The battle for the Senate came down to Georgia, a state that seemed like a long shot for Democrats not too long ago. After Biden turned the state blue for the first time since 1992, the Senate seats appeared to be toss-ups in a high-stakes contest for power. Both Senate races in November’s election went to a runoff Jan. 5 in which Ossoff and Warnock were victorious. Millions of dollars poured into the campaigns, and high-profile figures in both parties helped the candidates, including Biden and President Donald Trump.
The new Democratic lean means Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is the new majority leader after serving four years as the minority leader. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., becomes minority leader.
Schumer has already outlined an agenda for the chamber, starting with three major priorities: approving Biden’s Cabinet nominees, passing additional COVID-19 relief and Trump’s impeachment trial.
Georgia Senator-elect Jon Ossoff is thanking Georgians for “electing me to serve you.” (Jan. 6)
The New York Democrat made addressing college debt, immigration, voting rights and climate change centerpieces of the chamber’s agenda over the next Congress. He is the first Jewish American to serve as majority leader and the first from New York to hold the role.
In his first speech as majority leader, Schumer welcomed the chamber’s newest senators, promised bold legislation and welcomed the turning of a new page in Washington.
“As the majority changes in the Senate, the Senate will do business differently,” he said in his speech on the Senate floor. “The Senate will address the challenges our country faces head on and without delay, not with timid solutions but with boldness and with courage.”
The son of an exterminator and housewife from Brooklyn, Schumer, 70, made clear what his priorities would be as he helps Biden achieve his agenda.
“The Senate will tackle the perils of the moment: a once-in-a-generation health and economic crisis. And it will strive to make progress on the generations-long struggle for racial justice, economic justice, equality of opportunity and equality under the law,” Schumer said. “And make no mistake, the Senate will forcefully, consistently and urgently address the greatest threat to this country and our planet: climate change.”
Schumer said Democrats plan to bring more bills to the floor where the chances of sending them to the president for his signature are greater since Democrats maintained control of the House.
Though Democrats will control the Senate, House and White House, the margins are so slim that far-reaching legislation may have trouble passing in Biden’s first years in office. House Democrats lost more than a dozen seats in the past election, leaving them with only a three-seat majority. There are three vacancies in the House, at least one of which is a safe Democratic district.
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The Senate is in a similar situation with its 50-50 split. Schumer met with McConnell on Tuesday about a power-sharing agreement since the chamber will be split down the middle.
The last time the Senate saw a 50-50 split was in 2001 when George W. Bush was president. Republicans and Democrats forged an agreement that, among other things, called for both parties to compromise on the Senate schedule and had an equal number of senators from each party on committees.
After the meeting, Schumer indicated support for a similar agreement.
“Leader Schumer expressed that the fairest, most reasonable and easiest path forward is to adopt the 2001 bipartisan agreement without extraneous changes from either side,” Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said after the meeting.
McConnell has made protecting the future of the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to quickly pass legislation, a central issue in discussions over the agreement.
“Leader McConnell expressed his long-held view that the crucial, long-standing and bipartisan Senate rules concerning the legislative filibuster remain intact, specifically during the power share for the next two years,” said Doug Andres, a spokesman for McConnell. “Discussions on all aspects of the power-sharing agreement will continue over the next several days.”
Contributing: Ledyard King
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