Georgia Senate Runoff Key to Biden Presidency

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(Image: Wkimedia)

It’s essential, if Joe Biden is to have any chance of being a successful president, that Democrats win Georgia’s two runoff Senate races Jan. 5—and it’s just possible they might.

If Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock beat GOP incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Senate will be split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats a majority. If either Republican prevails, Joe Biden has slim chances of getting his programs past a Senate controlled by GOP leader Mitch McConnell—and, via Twitter, Donald Trump.

Even though Georgia basically has been a Republican state ever since passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Joe Biden did carry it (albeit by just .2 percent), so it’s possible to mobilize his coalition of African-Americans, college-educated suburban women, young people, Independents and first-time voters.

Moreover, both GOP incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are vulnerable. Both were involved in the Senate insider trading scandal, allegedly buying or selling COVID-related stocks based on information gained in a closed Senate  hearing on the pandemic’s likely effects.

Trump’s Justice Department (naturally) declined to take action against either, but scrutiny of Perdue has intensified over other trades he’s made.

And, though Trump said he will hold a rally for Perdue and Loeffler Saturday, Republican turnout may be diminished because, as part of his effort to overturn his loss to Biden, Trump is charging that the Georgia runoff election has been  “rigged” in favor of Democrats. Some Republicans are asking “why should I bother to vote?” while others are hoping he withdraws his “rigged” statement on Saturday. Trump created further trouble for his party when he accused top state GOP officials of conspiring against him. “Enemies of the state,” he called them. 

Warnock, senior pastor at Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, finished first in a field of 20 candidates running in a special election to fill out the term of retiring Sen. Jonny Isakson. Eight Democrats in the field netted 48.3 percent of the vote to Loeffler and five other GOP candidates’ 50.3. 

Perdue’s challenger, investigative journalist Jon Ossoff, came 1.8 points shy of winning the general election. 

Meantime,  there are strong arguments that Democrats can use to help both Warnock and Ossoff maximize turnout among their backers—Blacks, urbanites, Atlanta suburbanites, Independents and moderates, college graduates, high and low-income voters, young people and those concerned with COVID, health care and racial equality. (See below.)

It’s essential they win because Donald Trump will remain boss of the Republican Party after he leaves office. And if Republicans retain control of the Senate, they will continue to do his bidding, terrified as they are that his rabid base will make their lives miserable and vote them out of office in the next primary.

Trump has shown since losing the presidential election that his primary goal—other than making money and trying to avoid jail—will be to insure that Biden fails so that he—or his designated champion of Trumpism—regains the White House in 2024. Trump believes Democrats tried to delegitimize his 2016 election victory with investigations into possible Russian influence, plus impeachment. Though his ’16 opponent, Hillary Clinton, readily conceded and the Obama administration facilitated Trump’s transition process, Trump has done the opposite. 

He has repeatedly declared the election rife with fraud, has tried (and failed) to overturn the result with lawsuits and pressure on state GOP officials, and still refuses to concede. His administration delayed the start of a smooth transition and his Treasury Secretary blocked Federal Reserve access to nearly $500 billion in COVID relief assistance approved by Congress. 

With 77 percent of Trump voters believing the election was stolen, one can expect him to spend the the  next four years whipping his base into frenzies of rage against Biden and any Republicans tempted to work with him. Moreover, if the Senate stays Republican,  GOP leader Mitch McConnell—though supposedly a personal friend of  Biden’s—will do all he can to thwart Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda, much as he did Barrack Obama’s. 

Partly that’s because he habitually puts party ahead of country and partly it’s to enhance the GOP’s hold on the Senate in the 2022 mid-terms and capture the House, too. There is a chance that McConnell and Biden can agree on an ambitious infrastructure program and a new COVID relief package, but that’s about all.

Unless Biden can do as Ronald Reagan did in 1981—“go to the country” and bring down an avalanche of mail and telephone calls to Congress—there’s no chance the Senate will pass his proposed job-creating climate legislation, immigration reform, paid family and sick leave or tax increases on the rich and corporations to pay for an enlarged Obamacare, student debt relief, education improvements, “Buy American” investments in US manufacturing and research and development, and special help for minority-owned businesses.

Those programs are designed to help the working class and, if implemented, might steal a portion of the Trump base fooled into supporting a Republican party still dedicated to the welfare of the rich and corporations by crass appeals based on race, antipathy toward elites, distrust of “experts,”xenophobia and conspiracies, plus modest trickle-down economic benefits.

Even if Democrats do take the Senate, Biden may have to “go to the country” to break GOP obstruction-by-filibuster, a tactic McConnell used repeatedly in the first two years of Obama’s presidency, when Democrats last had control. Winning in Georgia would give Democrats a Senate majority. But it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, though Democrats could abolish that rule by majority vote—a move certain to rile traditionalists.

A Republican Senate could refuse confirmation of Biden-appointed officials and judges, and some GOP committee chairs will initiate or continue investigations of Biden’s son, alleged vote fraud and alleged Obama-era “spying” on Trump allies. So, even though Biden says he wants to serve those who voted against him as well as his supporters—and has resisted any direct attacks on Trump or Republicans since the election—Republicans are not likely to co-operate in his efforts to unify America and “build back better.”

Trump and his party have provided Democrats a wealth of ammunition to use in maximizing turnout of their supporters—and possibly turning some of the minority of Republicans who think Biden won fair and square. Eleven to 12 percent of Blacks voted for Republicans in the Nov. 3 Senate races, but some of them might be persuaded to switch—and others to turn out in droves, along with whites concerned about racial equality—because of Trump’s clearly-racist focus on alleged fraud (debunked in every case) in predominantly black cities—Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee. 

By 51-44 percent Georgia voters told exit pollsters it was more important to contain the COVID pandemic even if it hurts the economy. They ought to be moved by the fact that Trump has rarely, if ever, mentioned the pandemic since the election—even as cases, hospitalizations and deaths reach new heights. Nor has he expressed any empathy for Americans dying at the rate of 2,000 a day

By contrast, Biden is the soul of empathy and has focused on COVID control, pending availability of a vaccine, as a top task of his administration, his broad (and expensive) approach likely to be blocked by Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans have suddenly become deficit-conscious when it comes to COVID relief, offering only a quarter of the $2.2 trillion in aid called for by Democrats to help unemployed workers, small businesses pushed to the brink and state and local governments forced to cut services by plunging tax revenues.

Republicans approved, however, as the national debt increased by $6.7 trillion in Trump’s four years—vs. $8.5 trillion under Obama in eight years, including programs to combat the Great Recession.  Health care policy generally was rated the top issue by 12 percent of Georgia voters, according to Nov. 5 exit polls. Nearly 80 percent of that group voted Democratic, but so did 20 percent of Republicans.

So another cudgel Democrats can wield is the GOP campaign to abolish Obamacare without advocating any replacement. If the Supreme Court upholds GOP-initiated efforts to have the program declared unconstitutional, 20 million Americans—many, Trump working-class supporters—will suddenly lose their health coverage in the midst of a raging pandemic. And 133 million will lose protection against denial of coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. And most seriously, Senate Republicans either have backed Trump or stood silent as he undermines American democracy by delegitimizing one of its cornerstones—elections—and asks Republican state officials to invalidate election results and make him president.

Trump is the first president in US history to violate the previously-sacred tradition of peacefully transferring power. Perdue and Loeffler fully back him, making them complicit in what amounts to an attempted coup. So far, it’s an utterly failed attempt, with fraud charges repeatedly thrown out of court and repudiated by GOP state officials who have certified election results and refused his efforts to have state legislatures disregard those results and name Trump electors. 

Loeffler and Perdue are siding with a loser and for more reasons than one, deserve to lose their elections. Out-of-state bystanders should do what they can—contribute money or participate in long-distance get-out-the-vote campaigns—to see that they do. GOTV whiz Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight organization (https://fairfight.com/), for instance, will use your contribution wisely.   

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Morton Kondracke is a retired Washington, DC, journalist (Chicago Sun-Times, The New Republic, McLaughlin Group, FoxNews Special Report, Roll Call, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal) now living on Bainbridge Island. He continues to write regularly for (besides PostAlley) RealClearpolitics.com, mainly to advance the cause of political reform.

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