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Image: Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in Washington, on the morning after Election Day, Nov. 9, 2022. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Why Democrats would be in better shape with 51 Senate seats

The Democratic Party has retained a razor-thin majority in the Senate, but a win in Georgia's runoff would help significantly.


Unlike last year's Senate runoffs in Georgia, next month's contest between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker won't decide Senate control now that Democrats have clinched at least 50 seats (and hold the tiebreaker with Vice President Kamala Harris).

That doesn't just put Democrats in the legislative driver's seat, it also allows them to continue to reshape the federal judiciary by confirming President Biden’s judicial nominees for the next two year (NBC News' Sahil Kapur wrote a smart piece on that earlier this week). That's especially important considering Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly refused to say whether he would consider a hypothetical Supreme Court nomination from President Joe Biden if Republicans had the majority.

But there's a bigger difference between a 50-50 Senate (plus the tiebreaker) and a 51-49 Senate majority in favor of Democrats.

That's because the current 50-50 Democratic majority requires a power-sharing agreement to operate, which has meant all Senate Committee have had equally divided memberships and that it takes more time and effort to move nominations through committees without any GOP support.

If Warnock wins the Georgia runoff, it would give Democrats a clear 51-49 majority, giving them a majority on all committees and easing that procedural burden.

It would also take away the significance of a single moderate Democratic vote — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana are all up for re-election and will be eager to show their moderate credentials. If any of those three, or any another senator, decides to oppose a nominee, an extra vote in a 51-49 Senate would be helpful for Democrats.

And it would give Harris a break — she's broken more tie votes since any vice president since John Calhoun in the 1800s. With a clear Democratic majority, she'd likely be relied on less frequently to pass the Democrats' agenda.