Democrats were poised Wednesday to gain control of the U.S. Senate after securing historic wins in two Georgia runoff elections against Republican incumbents.
The looming change in Senate management means that Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) is poised to become a committee chairman: He’s the senior Democrat on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida had been chairman under Republican control last year but it wasn’t clear he would continue there in the new Congress.
Cardin is also in line to become chairman of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Democrat Raphael Warnock defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler Tuesday and Democrat Jon Ossoff was declared the winner in his race against incumbent Sen. David Perdue on Wednesday, giving each party 50 seats in the Senate.
When President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in on Jan. 20, Democrats will have Harris to break tie votes — assuming Warnock and Ossoff have been sworn into office by then.
Warnock will be Georgia’s first Black senator and Ossoff will be Georgia’s first Jewish senator. Both were connected to the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). Ossoff interned for Lewis, a civil rights icon, and Warnock served as his pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
“Yesterday, the people of Georgia echoed the voices of millions of Americans across Maryland and the country in November,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a statement Wednesday night. “They made it clear — it’s time for a change in Washington.”
But how and when the change happens is still a matter of discussion.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is poised to become the next majority leader, said he had not yet spoken to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about how the Senate will be organized to conduct business with a 50-50 split. In the past the parties had cooperated in some aspects of Senate practices when the parties were split evenly, but it’s not clear if that will happen in a more polarized Senate.
“We have a lot of things to discuss,” Schumer said. “We first have to wait until the races are certified and the new senators are here and Vice President Kamala [Harris] is in the chair before we can put anything in place, but certainly we’ll have to talk.”
Schumer said the Democrats’ first goal will be to approve $2,000 emergency relief checks for Americans, a proposal that fell short in the GOP-controlled Senate despite support from President Trump.
With a 50-50 Senate and Harris able to break tie votes, it is likely that Democrats will replace Republicans as committee chairmen, though nothing has been announced yet. Following are some of the potential changes in store, based on seniority and retirements:
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is the current chairwoman. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, would be in line to be chair under Democratic control.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, would be in line to be chairwoman. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas was expected to be chairman under a Republican majority, replacing Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who retired.
With the change in party control, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) would take over from Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R).
BANKING, HOUSING AND URBAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio would be in line to lead the committee under Democratic control. Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania had been the potential new chairman if Republicans remained in charge.
HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE
North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr likely would have been chairman under a GOP majority, depending on the status of an investigation into his stock trades during the pandemic, following the retirement of Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. With Democrats in charge, the likely chair is Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio had been poised to become chairman under a GOP majority. The Democrat who’s now in line to head the committee is Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan.
It had not been entirely clear if Burr would retake his chairmanship of this panel and if not, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would have been in line. Under Democratic control, the chair would likely be Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a former Judiciary chairman, was slated to retake control of the panel under GOP control. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois is viewed as the likely chairman with Democrats in charge, following a caucus vote in December on a rule change.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri has headed up Rules with a Republican majority. But Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota as the most senior Democrat would be in line to take over.
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran had been expected to continue as chairman under GOP control. With Democrats in the majority, Montana Sen. Jon Tester would take the gavel.
Van Hollen expressed optimism that with the new administration and Democrats about to assume control of the Senate, several issues that had been ignored under Republican control would come to the fore.
“I am eager and ready to work alongside the two new Georgia Senators, as well as the incoming Biden-Harris Administration and a Democratic-led Congress to enact policies that will ensure equal opportunity and equal justice in our nation,” he said. “From day one, we must address these pressing matters — from the immediate need to bolster the battle against the health and economic tolls of the COVID-19 pandemic, to our obligation to create an economy that works for all, to the urgent fight to tackle head-on issues of racial equality and social justice in America. There is much to be done on these matters and more, including attacking the climate crisis, modernizing America’s infrastructure, and fully investing in our education system and the success of our children.”
Maryland Matters reporter Josh Kurtz and States Newsroom reporter Laura Olson contributed to this story.