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Democrats’ control of US Senate means boost for Biden

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By maintaining control of the US Senate in crucial midterm elections, Democrats are giving a boost to Joe Biden in the final two years of his presidency's first term./AFP
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Nov 14, 2022 - 12:57 PM

WASHINGTON — Democrats’ continued control of the US Senate is not merely a symbolic victory for Joe Biden; the come-from-behind performance has real-world political implications for the president’s next two years in office.

Biden and his party were celebrating Sunday after Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s projected re-election in her hotly contested Nevada race guaranteed Democrats would retain control of the upper chamber.

While the battle for Congress has yet to fully play out, Republicans are expected to eke out a narrow — and potentially razor-thin — majority in the House of Representatives, which would mean divided government in the legislative branch.

Here is what controlling the Senate means for Biden and his Democrats.

Judges, justices 

“The main difference between a split Congress and one controlled by Republicans completely would be Biden’s ability to fill judicial and other vacancies,” Kyle Kondik, a political expert at the University of Virginia, told Vox.

By running the Senate, which is constitutionally tasked with confirming presidential nominations, Democrats will be free to put forward Biden’s picks for judicial posts, notably positions on district, circuit and high courts.

Biden’s judges have been confirmed at a blistering speed already, equaling the pace of predecessor Donald Trump, who boasted openly of stacking courts with Republican-nominated judges.

The Democratic majority would also make it easier for Biden to fill any US Supreme Court vacancies that arise — a power that could have implications for decades, given that justices are appointed for life.

In March 2016, the Republican Senate majority leader at the time, Mitch McConnell, famously blocked any vote on Democratic president Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, saying the American people should have a “voice” in the process through that year’s November election.

Republicans will not be able to erect such a roadblock in the next two years.

Cabinet appointments 

The Senate also confirms a president’s cabinet picks and several other executive posts, including members of the US Federal Reserve, ambassadorships and more.

If members of Biden’s cabinet depart government in the last two years of his first term — a relatively common occurrence — their replacements, who first pass White House muster, might face less intense Senate scrutiny with the chamber held by Democrats.

With Senate committees on the judiciary, foreign relations or finance controlled by Biden allies, the likelihood of his nominees getting bogged down in those panels is minimized, as is their chance of being blocked in a Senate floor vote for confirmation.

If the opposing party controlled the Senate’s levers of powers, Biden would be forced to put forward more consensus nominees who could win over at least a few Republicans.

Legislative stakes 

If Republicans indeed take the House, Biden’s legislative agenda will be curtailed, as any bill must pass both chambers to reach the president’s desk.

While Republicans have vowed to try to roll back key Biden victories on issues like battling climate change, the Democrats, by keeping the Senate, will be able to thwart GOP legislation that comes over from the House.

The all-important budget resolutions needed to keep government operating will pass more easily in the Senate as they require only a simple majority.

But Democrats will still be well short of the 60 Senate votes needed to overcome blocking tactics and move other major pieces of legislation.

By controlling the Senate and its various committees, Democrats will be able to tamp down Republican investigations into the administration. And they could block attempts by a Republican House to impeach Biden.

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