Democrats swore in three new senators on Wednesday, officially handing the party the Senate majority for the first time since losing the chamber in the 2014 elections.
Newly minted Vice President Kamala Harris swore in Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D), who defeated Sens. David Perdue (R.) and Kelly Loeffler (R.) in Georgia’s runoff elections on Jan. 5.
Harris also swore in her successor as California senator, former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who will hold the seat through the scheduled end of Harris’s term in 2022.
Swearing in the three senators, in addition to Harris’s own swearing-in earlier Wednesday at the Capitol, officially gives Democrats control of the Senate.
The Senate is now split 50-50, but because Harris in her capacity as vice president is also president of the Senate, it allows her to break any ties and officially tips control of the chamber in Democrats’ favor.
“We have turned the page to a new chapter in the history of our democracy,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said from the floor after the new senators were sworn in.
Harris, speaking to reporters as she left the Capitol, described presiding over the Senate as “amazing.”
Democrats have pledged to tackle a bold agenda, as they have total control of government for the first time since 2010, when they lost the House in a Tea Party wave.
Schumer, speaking from the Senate floor, pledged that the chamber under his leadership would be “active, responsive, energetic and bold.”
“The Senate will address the challenges our country faces head-on and without delay, not with timid solutions, but with boldness and with courage,” Schumer said.
Democrats have pointed out three areas as their immediate priorities: a second impeachment trial of former President Trump, a new round of coronavirus relief and confirming President Biden’s Cabinet picks.
But the timing of all of those things is in flux. Senators haven’t yet locked in an agreement to confirm any of Biden’s Cabinet picks, though Schumer didn’t rule out that at least one vote could happen later Wednesday.
Senators are also waiting to see when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will send over the article of impeachment, which is likely to sideline any other business for weeks.
Underscoring the switch in control of the Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was also sworn in as president pro tempore, the most senior member of the majority party, replacing Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Schumer also smiled as Leahy referred to him as the majority leader, fulfilling a years-long goal for the New York Democrat.
“I need to catch my breath, so much is happening,” Schumer said as he started off his first speech as majority leader.
How exactly the 50-50 Senate will operate is still unknown.
Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) need to work out an organizing resolution outlining how they will share power. Until they do, Republicans still technically could have a majority on some Senate panels.
McConnell threw a wrench into hopes of a quick deal when he said he wanted to get a deal on the legislative filibuster as part of the agreement. Though Democrats don’t have the votes to nix the filibuster, they are cool to McConnell’s demand.
“They should just have a simple organizing resolution like they have in the past. It’s not the time to make decisions like that. This is the time to simply figure out how are you going to share power when you have a 50-50 senate with Kamala Harris as the deciding vote,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the new Senate Rules Committee chairwoman.
Democrats argue that they believe they should have a caucus conversation about the Senate rules before acquiescing to a GOP demand to take things off the table.
McConnell, during his first speech as minority leader, congratulated Biden saying, “I look forward to working with him as our new president wherever possible.”
But he also appeared to warn that he did not believe Democrats had a mandate, after narrowly winning the Senate majority and losing seats in the House.
“The people intentionally entrusted both political parties with significant power to shape our nation’s direction. May we work together to honor that trust,” he said.