U.S. Democrats gain a valuable Senate seat. And Donald Trump gains a new headache

Here's how one single Senate win may have just turbocharged U.S. President Joe Biden's bid to reshape the courts. Democrats gained a valuable seat in Georgia on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Donald Trump may have gained a new headache.

How one single U.S. Senate win just turbocharged Joe Biden's bid to reshape the courts

Democrat Raphael Warnock, left, narrowly defeated Republican Herschel Walker, right, in a race with wide-ranging consequences, potentially including on ex-president Donald Trump. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Prepare to behold a production line, lurching to life in the American capital: because the U.S. Senate is about to become a judicial confirmation factory for Democrats.

The result of one Senate race, just one run-off result in Georgia on Tuesday night, where an erratic football legend lost to a left-leaning preacher, could leave a lingering mark for decades.

Democrat Raphael Warnock's defeat of Republican Herschel Walker has broken a tie in the Senate: the chamber's current 50-50 split will turn into a 51-49 Democratic advantage.

It's a rare case of the president's party gaining a Senate seat, only the fourth time it's happened spanning 13 midterms over the past half-century, which Republicans also achieved in 2018.

Yet this slimmest of margins carries sweeping implications. It unshackles Democrats from a power-sharing arrangement with their opponents and gives them unfettered control over the chamber's committees.

And that, make no mistake, is where much of the action will reside these next two years — at committees. 

The next Congress won't actually be passing many major bills, given the likely legislative deadlock ahead as each party now holds one chamber. 

But the committees will keep doing their thing, which is a two-part role: investigate the topics of their choice, and confirm nominees of the president's choice.

Joe Biden's party can focus on a long-term project of reshaping conservative courts that have dealt liberals a string of defeats on abortion, guns, and climate regulations.

The Senate justice committee is about to accelerate its heretofore middling pace as the body becomes a hub for confirming black-robed nominees to the bench.

A happy president crowed to reporters as he left Air Force One on Tuesday night: "We're gonna win. We're gonna win Georgia," Biden said.

Currently, a tie at committees forces the Senate to use an inefficent, slow-moving procedure called a discharge petition to force a vote on nominees. 

It requires up to four hours of debate, then time for additional objections, then a vote where Vice-President Kamala Harris has to come to Capitol Hill to break the tie.

"It's really time-consuming," said Molly E. Reynolds, an expert on congressional procedure with the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"Having a clear majority – not a tie – would render that process moot."

That's about to happen.

Biden will now move from the middle of the pack in judicial confirmations toward the front, with 130 current and pending vacancies in federal courts.

Warnock's win gives Democrats their 51st seat, a rare example of the incumbent party gaining a Senate seat in a midterm. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

More knives out for Trump

Biden's past, and possible future, election opponent, might not be sharing his buoyant mood. The political knives are already out for Donald Trump.

Trump's rivals in the Republican Party were already using recent losses by Trump-backed candidates to argue he's yesterday's man, a loser for their party. 

That will likely grow; the 2022 midterm cycle ends with a textbook demonstration of Republicans faring better without Trump.

In Georgia, as in New Hampshire, Ohio, Arizona, and elsewhere, other Republicans won: Republicans that Trump detests easily won state positions and the governorship in the Peach State. 

Yet candidates that Trump promoted either lost or struggled. 

One estimate concluded that Trump-endorsed candidates fared seven percentage points worse in swing seats than other Republicans.

Herschel Walker's son blames Trump for recruiting him:

And Walker was Trump's ally. A longtime acquaintance he's known for decades. Walker was a star in Trump's since-defunct football league.

He backed Trump's complaints about a stolen election; and Trump backed him.

The rest of the party followed and stuck with Walker through a succession of personal scandals, violence allegations, family drama, and on-stage eccentricities.

Obama ridiculed Walker as unqualified:

The loss capped a lamentable day for the ex-president. 

In the span of several hours, Trump's family business was found guilty of committing tax fraud; there was also news that another criminal investigation, into him, led by a special counsel, issued subpoenaes; a congressional inquiry into Jan. 6 also made a criminal referral to police. 

Meanwhile, Capitol Hill Republicans spent part of the day grumbling about Trump having mused about suspending the Constitution.

The Georgia result gives Trump's rivals new ammunition.

As CNN declared the winner in Georgia, a Trump-skeptical Republican on its panel opined that Trump may have cost his party key races in Georgia for the second time in two years

The state that 'finally broke Donald Trump'?

"Georgia … may be remembered as the state that finally broke Donald Trump," said Scott Jennings, a former campaign aide to numerous high-profile Republicans. 

"This is not a state Republicans should be losing."

As votes were being counted Tuesday night, Trump was posting on his social-media site, in all caps, about his being a victim of the greatest witch hunt of all time.

Walker had the backing of Donald Trump. But his personal scandals and eccentricities hurt his campaign. (Alyssa Pointer

House Republicans just announced they will launch about six-dozen investigations, on topics ranging from the origins of COVID, to income sources for the Biden family and what Republicans allege will show illegal behaviour.

But now we know the Senate has new power – to conduct counter-programming

After winning on Tuesday, Democrats can investigate whatever they like, whether it involves Trump or anything else, and they won't have to negotiate the details with Republicans.

That's while their committees confirm ambassadors and cabinet members more easily. 

Tough 2024 map: Democrats will need all the seats they can get 

For example, the outgoing mayor of Los Angeles was nominated a year and a half ago to be ambassador to India; he's still waiting for a confirmation hearing, as Republicans investigate him.

Democrats celebrated Tuesday night at a rally for Warnock in Atlanta, as the incumbent was re-elected to the Senate. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Another long-term effect of Warnock's win in Georgia involves the 2024 election.

Democrats are bracing for a merciless campaign cycle and the potential loss of Senate seats; gaining this extra seat now gives them a little cushion to absorb a seat loss.

The news outlet POLITICO refers to the 2024 Senate lineup as the map from hell for Democrats as they hold the vast majority of seats up for election that year including tough ones (Nevada, Arizona and Michigan) and extremely tough ones (West Virginia and Montana). 

In the meantime, starting Jan. 3, they gain an outright majority in the Senate. And start firing up the assembly line leading straight to federal courts.

The judiciary may have reshaped the 2022 U.S. election, with its abortion decision that upended the campaign. Now the 2022 U.S. election might reshape the judiciary.


Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.


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