Georgians elected Jon Ossoff to the US Senate, CNN projected Wednesday, giving the Democratic Party control of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade and delivering a stark repudiation of President Donald Trump as he tried to overturn his own loss.
Ossoff's victory and that of fellow Georgia Democrat the Rev. Raphael Warnock flip the Senate, giving President-elect Joe Biden the power to potentially enact sweeping, liberal legislation and push through Cabinet nominations without Republican support. The Senate's party split will be 50-50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking tie votes.
Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and Ossoff will respectively be the first Black and Jewish senators to represent Georgia.
"At this moment of crisis, as Covid-19 continues to ravage our state and our country, when hundreds of thousands have lost their lives, millions have lost livelihoods, Georgia families are having difficulty putting food on the table -- fearing foreclosure or eviction, having difficulty making ends meet -- let's unite now to beat this virus and rush economic relief to the people of our state and to the American people," Ossoff said earlier Wednesday ahead of CNN's projection.
After no Georgia US Senate candidate received 50% of the vote in November, the races turned to two runoffs with control of the Senate at stake. While Ossoff and Warnock ran on a unity ticket, Trump refused to concede his own loss, sparking a fight within the Republican Party and disenchanting some of his supporters, who believed his false claims that the vote was rigged.
Trump's ongoing onslaught against the Republican officials in charge of the elections pressured the two GOP senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, to make a choice: Join the President in seeking to overturn the democratic outcome or risk losing Trump supporters.
Despite three recounts and no evidence of widespread fraud, Loeffler and Perdue decided to join the President in supporting an objection to Congress' certification of the Electoral College's results on Wednesday in a final, deluded display of devotion to Trump supporters.
"I'm obviously disappointed," said Eric Tanenblatt, a longtime Georgia Republican strategist. "Clearly the distractions and sideshows impacted the outcome."
Progressives are already looking at how Democrats should use their newfound power, advocating for the Senate to "go nuclear" and eliminate the filibuster, which requires that most legislation obtain 60 votes to advance, in order to pass a more ambitious agenda. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York dodged a question on Wednesday on whether his caucus will lower the threshold to a simple majority vote, saying it is united in wanting "big, bold change" and would "discuss the best ways to get that done."
He said that "one of the first" bills he'd like to pass as Senate majority leader would provide $2,000 stimulus checks to help Americans suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, recently blocked despite President Donald Trump's support for enhanced aid. Democratic senators, who have been in the minority for six years, are now evaluating how to wield their gavels across various committees to address the health and economic crises.
"Georgia's voters delivered a resounding message yesterday: they want action on the crises we face and they want it right now," said Biden in a statement. "On Covid-19, on economic relief, on climate, on racial justice, on voting rights and so much more."
Schumer will have a minuscule margin for error balancing the priorities of the left and the politically vulnerable.
Democrats acknowledged the intraparty fight to come. Maine independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN that he is "very reluctant" to eliminate the filibuster but looks forward to changing the rules to disincentivize its "abuse."
Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, a moderate who faces a 2024 election in his red state, said on Wednesday that he hoped the filibuster would remain to encourage bipartisanship.
"Bipartisan legislation tends to stand the test of time," said Tester.
But the left wants Schumer to get rid of it so that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and the Senate can pass their long-awaited wish list. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley tweeted on Wednesday that "the movement" to end cash bail, abolish Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and support Black lives "organized to deliver" Congress and the White House. "It's time we deliver for them," she said.
A Democratic-led Senate could also confirm Biden's nominees without Republican support, allowing the new administration to go bolder in its Cabinet picks and begin to overhaul the conservatives' massive gains on the judicial bench over the past four years.
Biden plans to pick federal Judge Merrick Garland for attorney general, creating a vacancy on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If McConnell were in charge of the Senate, the Biden administration might've gone with someone like former Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones to avoid the Kentucky Republican's influence over that critical judicial vacancy.
"Obviously, with Democratic control [of the Senate], the ability of Joe Biden to move nominations forward will be easier," said Schumer.
Perdue and Loeffler entered the Senate runoffs with some advantages. Loeffler, one of the richest members of Congress, spent tens of millions on her race, while Perdue, a first-term senator and former Fortune 500 CEO, has earned over 88,000 more votes than the 33-year-old Ossoff two months ago.
Warnock and Ossoff campaigned on ending the coronavirus crisis, which has infected more than 20.8 million Americans and killed at least 354,000, in order to reopen the economy. They pushed for debt-free public college and a new Voting Rights Act. And they attacked the Republican senators for their multimillion-dollar stock transactions during the pandemic, alleging that they profited off it. The senators have denied any wrongdoing.
But Loeffler's and Perdue's campaigns were quickly subsumed by Trump's attacks on the Democratic outcome. Trump recently appeared to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on a private call, urging him to "find" enough votes to reverse his loss in Georgia, a state that every GOP presidential candidate had won since 1996. Raffensperger, a Republican, refused.
Perdue and Loeffler attempted to sidestep the intraparty fight by focusing their remarks on their Democratic opponents.
Perdue's closing message was littered with attacks, saying in a minute-long video that if Republicans lose, undocumented immigrants will vote, Americans' private health insurance will be "taken away," and Democrats will pack the Supreme Court and defund the police.
"We win Georgia, we save America," said Perdue to the camera.
But Warnock and Ossoff countered that they would "demilitarize" rather than defund the police, create a legal pathway for undocumented immigrants and support a public option to decrease the number of uninsured. Neither Democratic candidate has advocated adding justices to the court.
"Kelly Loeffler spends tens of millions of dollars to scare you," said Warnock in an ad. "She's trying to make you afraid of me because she's afraid of you. Afraid that you understand how she's used her position in the Senate to enrich herself and others like her. Afraid that you'll realize that we can do better."
Now, Democrats will confront the question of how far they will go following the Trump administration. They spent Wednesday celebrating their quick reversal of fortune after being so long out of power.
"I think we're going to do big things," said Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. "I think that the overwhelming number of Democrats are pointing in the same direction on all of this. Some faster than others, but all in the same direction."
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.