Georgia’s runoff election on Tuesday featuring a Senate Agriculture Committee member and the cousin of Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue will decide control of the U.S. Senate and go a long way in determining the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.
Democrats must win both of the races to get 50 seats in the Senate. That would allow Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to break 50-50 ties after she takes office Jan. 20. Recent polls show a razor tight race for the Georgia seats held by GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Loeffler joined the Ag Committee a year ago after she was appointed to fill the seat left by the retirement of Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Perdue is running for a second full term.
"These races will determine the fate of the Senate - and how fast we can get to work building back better - so we all need to do our part to make sure we win," Biden said in a recent fundraising appeal.
The new 117th Congress convened at noon Sunday ahead of Tuesday’s primary and what could be an ugly fight Wednesday when the House and Senate meet to confirm the results of the presidential election and the votes of the Electoral College.
"To say the 117th Congress convenes at a challenging time would indeed by an understatement," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said as Sunday's session opened. "From political division to a deadly pandemic to adversaries around the world, the hurdles ahead of us are many, and they are serious."
The Democratic-controlled House is expected to approve a new rules package that would make a couple of key changes on budgeting requirements and floor procedures. One change would provide an exemption to pay-as-you-go requirements for bills addressing climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic. Those bills would not have to be offset with spending cuts or revenue increases.
Another rules change is aimed at making it harder for minority Republicans to win votes on a “motion to recommit,” a procedure used to force vulnerable majority party members into difficult votes.
"These future-focused proposals reflect our priorities as a caucus and as a country – including crushing the coronavirus, addressing economic disparity, combating the climate crisis, advancing inclusion, and promoting integrity in government," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was re-elected as speaker Sunday afternoon on a 216-209 vote over GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
There is little question that lawmakers will confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but conservative Republicans led by Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas and others are vowing to challenge the results.
“It’s a protest vote only, because there’s … zero chance anything can come from it,” Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told reporters on Friday when pressed on whether he would support Hawley’s election challenge.
Defending his plan, Hawley said, “We need an investigation into fraud. We need election reform measures to be passed. I've introduced bills and can't get a vote on them. So, this is, something has to change here, and this is my opportunity on Jan. 6 to bring these issues to the floor.”
Several newly elected senators indicated they planned to join the challenge to Biden's electors, including Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
But fellow conservative, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, suggested the election challenge was a cynical play to appease some aggrieved GOP voters.
“When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one,” Sasse wrote in a Facebook post, explaining his refusal to support Hawley’s move. "Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called Hawley’s plan a “reckless stunt” and “grossly irresponsible.” “He’s attempting to undermine our democratic process, fuel Trump’s lies about voter fraud, and delay the certification of Biden’s win,” Van Hollen said.
In Georgia, Sonny Perdue has done some campaigning for the pair. During an interview with Fox Radio host Brian Kilmeade, Perdue pressed the GOP message that Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff, who is running against Perdue, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is challenging Loeffler, are too liberal and would enable Biden to carry out a socialist agenda.
Osoff and Warnock “represent the radical left,” while Georgians are by and large “common-sense conservatives,” said Sonny Perdue, emphasizing that he was discussing the race as a private citizen, not as agriculture secretary. Perdue is a former Georgia governor.
A government watchdog agency, the Office of Special Counsel, found that Perdue improperly promoted Trump's re-election at a Farmers to Families Food Box event in North Carolina last August. Perdue was ordered to reimburse the government for the costs of his participation at the event.
During the Fox Radio interview, Perdue also expressed confidence that the concerns many GOP voters have about the fairness of the presidential election in their state wouldn't discourage them from voting in the runoff election. “That fever has somewhat passed,” Perdue said. “Most people understand that boycotting or not voting again is letting them win.”
Loeffler has emphasized her roots in agriculture - she grew up on an Illinois farm - but both she and Perdue are among the Senate’s wealthiest members and have come under fire for stock trading as the coronavirus pandemic was developing early in the year. Both denied wrongdoing and say the Senate Ethics Committee and Securities and Exchange Commission have cleared their activity.
Like Biden, Ossoff and Warnock have also tried to nationalize the election by emphasizing that control of the Senate is at stake. "With Loeffler and (Senate GOP Leader Mitch) McConnell completing their far-right takeover of our Supreme Court, taking back the Senate majority is the ONLY way we can protect our rights, from voting to reproductive rights," Warnock says in a fundraising appeal.
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