Democrats will remain in control of the Senate for the next two years, leaving intact their ability to approve President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees, but if Republicans win the House, a split Congress could create legislative gridlock for the rest of Biden’s tenure.
The Senate can continue confirming Biden’s nominees for federal judgeships at a steady clip, something Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to do on Saturday after Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) was projected to win reelection, earning Senate Democrats the 50 seats they need to maintain a slim majority in the upper chamber.
If Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) loses a runoff race next month and the upper chamber stays divided 50-50, Democrats will still face some hurdles in confirming judicial nominees because committees will likely continue to have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, meaning some GOP support will be required to move nominations out of committees unless Democrats take additional procedural steps on the Senate floor.
If a Supreme Court seat becomes vacant, Democrats will also have the ability to approve Biden’s pick though a simple majority vote without the support of any Republicans.
Senate confirmation is required for about 1,200 government roles, including cabinet officials and ambassadors, and while the Senate has confirmed 465 Biden nominees thus far according to the Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, 124 nominees have yet to be confirmed.
If Republicans are able to secure majority control in the House, it could become difficult to pass legislation because the Democrat-controlled Senate may refuse to sign off on bills passed by a GOP majority in the House, or vice versa.
Raising the debt ceiling could be difficult if the GOP wins the House while Democrats hold onto the Senate because Republicans are expected to use the fight over the U.S. borrowing limit to force approval of other demands, though some Democratic leaders say they will attempt to raise the debt ceiling before the next session of Congress begins.
Republicans had floated plans to reinvigorate investigations into Biden and his orbit, including his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings, and while some investigations are already underway—including a Hunter Biden probe led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)—Democrats will maintain leadership roles on committees Republicans could have used to launch new investigations.
What We Don’t Know
Which party will control the House. As of Sunday morning, Democrats had won 204 seats, while Republicans had 211 seats, meaning the GOP is seven wins away from securing the 218 seats needed for a majority. Democrats have a more difficult path to maintaining control of the House, and will need to win 14 of the 20 uncalled House races.
In the pivotal Arizona and Nevada Senate races that were called for Democrats on Friday and Saturday, the Democratic candidates vowed to work across the aisle in an appeal to right-leaning swing voters. Cortez Masto highlighted her work with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on the campaign trail, NBC News reported, and incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) campaigned with prominent Republicans who touted Kelly’s bipartisan efforts on infrastructure and energy initiatives.
What To Watch For
Georgia’s Senate race is headed to a runoff election on December 6 after Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker both failed to clinch the 50% of votes needed to avoid a rematch. If Warnock wins, Democrats will hold 51 seats, meaning they won’t need Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote in the event of a 50-50 split. Democrats would also be able to lead committees without a power-sharing agreement with Republicans, and could still pass legislation and confirm nominees even if one Senate Democrat votes no.
84. That’s the number of Biden judicial nominees the Senate has confirmed. Under Trump, the Senate approved 234 judges.