How a Single Twist of Fate Could Put an End to the Democrats’ Senate Majority | Latest News!
The list of threats to the Democrats’ Senate control is familiar: Historically, the president’s party loses seats in midterms. Low approval ratings in battleground states, like low national approval ratings, signal disaster. Voters increasingly favor a Republican Congress. In other places, Republicans have made voting more difficult and put partisans in charge of voting.
All of this threatens to end the Democratic majority in the Senate in 2022. A 50-50 tie, broken only by Kamala Harris’ decisive vote as VP, means the end of Democratic leadership might come sooner. Earlier.
For one thing, the rift between West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and his party’s more progressive sections raises the prospect of his departure, which he denies. Enraged by the Bush administration’s tax proposals, Vermont’s Jim Jeffords declared he would become an independent and caucus with the Democrats, switching the Senate and making Tom Daschle the majority leader until the 2002 midterms. So, if Manchin departed the Democratic caucus, Republicans would have a governing majority.
A random stroke of fate might hand the Senate to the Republicans, not next January, but next summer, or next month, or even next week. A serious sickness or death might cause a political earthquake, reversing the power of the nation’s main legislative body.
While each state has its own rules for replacing a senator, 37 of them require the governor to choose a replacement. Only seven of those need the governor to appoint a party member. So there are 30 states where the governor may appoint a new senator.
In practice, a Republican governor may replace one or two Democratic senators in nine states (as of Jan. 15). If any of those states’ Democratic senators had to resign, the Republican governor could instantly replace them with a Republican, giving the GOP a 51-49 Senate majority.
With Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, and Arizona have two Democratic senators, Glenn Youngkin will join a club of GOP governors from states with two Democrats.
Ohio and Montana both have one Democrat senator and one Republican governor. It’s worth noting that four states have Democratic governors and two Republican senators: Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas. Only in Maryland, Arizona, North Carolina, and Kentucky are the parties guaranteed seats.)
When 80-year-old Vermont Democrat Pat Leahy went into the hospital in January, concerns about senatorial succession arose. Who would Republican Governor Phil Scott replace him if he fell ill? Scott is as “un-Republican” as they come, and Leahy bounced back swiftly. But, despite the discomfort, the larger issue persists.
The issue is exacerbated by the loss of the Senate’s former sense of collegiality and comity. Historically, a split body dealt with an unstable power balance by sharing it or making adjustments. Today, such visions look idyllic.
It may seem gloomy to consider what happens when a senator dies or is forced to resign due to sickness. It’s almost irresponsible not to. In spite of the fact that just three senators have died in the recent decade, the fact that 26 are over 70 merits notice. Assassinated Robert Kennedy was 42; Paul Wellstone, 58, died in an aircraft crash. Moreover, the Senate has lost a significant number of members. The 83rd Congress began in 1953 with 48 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and one independent, representing the 48 states. During the session, nine senators died and one resigned.
What occurred after such a tight vote? Several times, the appointed senator was from the opposing party. But the Senate was a different place back then, and power didn’t actually shift.
When Ohio Republican Robert Taft died as President in July 1953, Democrat Thomas Burke took over. Sen. Wayne Morse, an independent who defected from the GOP over his dislike of Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy, voted to retain the GOP in charge to maintain decorum and consistency.
However, Democratic leader Lyndon Johnson never raised the matter of further fatalities throughout the debate. Surely. First, Johnson intended to portray his party as cooperative, recognizing President Dwight Eisenhower’s popularity. He knew that some of Ike’s most ardent opponents in the Senate were not Democrats, but more conservative Republicans. Second, the filibuster rule and a Republican president would have prevented Johnson from accomplishing a Democratic legislative program at all. In terms of court confirmations, the procedure back in the 1950s was not politicized. Finally, Washington’s relative collegiality meant Johnson could get concessions on committee assignments in exchange for not challenging the Republicans’ organizational authority.
In November 1954, Democrats took over control of the Senate, a position they would retain for 26 years. No senatorial death since has changed the chamber’s numerical balance (though it nearly occurred when South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson was struck by a brain hemorrhage in 2006).
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Today, it’s impossible to envision Mitch McConnell — or any Republican leader — consenting to let Democrats maintain the ability to organize the Senate. Also, when Jeffords quit the GOP in 2001 and said he would join the Democratic caucus, did Daschle deny his party a majority?
This exercise is more than simply morbid conjecture because of the Senate’s equal split and the ferocity of today’s political contests. Governors have been replacing opposing senators with members of their own party for decades. (When Democratic icon Robert Kennedy was murdered in 1968, Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller replaced him with a Republican, Charles Goodell.) In nearly 200 incidents spanning over 100 years, governors have only nominated one other party’s substitute three times.
Now, with the Senate majority hanging by a hair, conventional governor authority threatens to derail Democratic dominance for the next year. (Would McConnell, faced with an unexpected Senate vacancy, mimic Lyndon Johnson and hold his ground, allowing Democrats to keep organizational control? Maybe, but is there anything in McConnell’s record that says he won’t grab another power lever?)
Postscript: This threat to the Democratic Senate majority is not the most extreme. Our system handles a president unable to perform his duties as set out in the 25th Amendment by allowing the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to declare the president incapacitated.
But what if a vice president is unable to discharge his duties? If she or he is sick or hurt, there’s no way to delegate the role to someone else, therefore in a 50-50 Senate, no one can break a tie. It’s hard to believe Harris was inside the Democratic National Committee offices on Jan. 6, 2021, while an unknown bomb lay outside.
Is this even somewhat comforting? It certainly eases concerns about Joe Manchin’s impending defection.