Democrats successfully defended their narrow grip on the U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, giving President Joe Biden a little breathing room next year even if Republicans ultimately end up winning a majority in the House.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D-Nev.) win over Republican Adam Laxalt in Nevada clinched the 50th vote for Democrats after days of uncertainty over thousands of mail-in ballots. Georgia’s Senate race, whose impact may be felt more strongly in 2024, will be determined by a Dec. 6 runoff election.
Republicans hoped that voter dissatisfaction with Democratic policies and high inflation would usher in a “red wave,” carrying them to victory in both chambers of Congress. While they did make gains in some states like Florida and New York, Republican candidates, many of them extremists who were backed by former President Donald Trump, underperformed elsewhere around country.
Preliminary exit polls showed that fewer than a third of voters saw inflation as the defining issue of the election, with the survival of democracy and abortion rights weighing just as heavily in their minds. Attacking Democrats over crime also didn’t appear to be the winning strategy that Republicans had envisioned.
Democrats made the future of democracy a key issue in the closing days of the race. They argued that the scores of GOP election deniers on the ballot this year presented a critical threat that ought to be rejected before the next presidential election, especially with twice-impeached former President Donald Trump teasing another run for the White House.
Although many election deniers lost their races Tuesday, more than 160 who have either denied or cast doubts on Biden’s presidential win in 2020 will be in Congress in 2023.
With a majority in the Senate, Democrats can accomplish several things.
First, they’ll have an easier time filling vacancies in Biden’s cabinet and have another two years to reshape the federal courts. Biden’s team has been remarkably stable, especially compared to Trump’s. But several department heads are expected to depart in the coming months, and he’ll now have a better chance of confirming their replacements.
In the first half of his term, Biden also confirmed a record number of judges, a group more diverse than any prior president’s. A GOP-controlled Senate would have put a stop to that streak ― and likely would have ended any possibility of an appointment to the Supreme Court, should a vacancy arise.
Second, Democrats will hold a stronger hand in coming negotiations with a GOP-controlled House over must-pass fiscal measures such as government spending and the debt limit.
Republicans have already indicated that they will refuse to support a debt ceiling increase without extracting major policy concessions from Democrats, such as cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The 2011 debt ceiling fight resulted in the first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. A default on the debt would be disastrous.
A growing number of lawmakers want to see Democrats raise the debt ceiling in the lame-duck session of Congress this year, removing the threat of an economic armageddon for the rest of Biden’s term. They would need the support of all 50 members of the current Senate Democratic caucus to do so, however.
The next debt ceiling deadline will come sometime next year, though the precise date is uncertain because incoming tax revenue can be unpredictable from month to month.
Finally, Democrats now face a slightly easier path in 2024, when they will contend with a particularly brutal map. Democrats will have to defend seven seats in states former President Donald Trump won at least once, with only two pick-up opportunities. Republicans are hoping to run up the margins in that election, with even some early talk of potentially reaching a filibuster-proof majority.
If Democrats are able to defend Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) seat in the upcoming Georgia runoff, they’ll be better positioned for the next election.