by SEAN GROSSNICKLE
A tumultuous and politically divided 2020 is all but wrapped up, leaving the two U.S. Senate run-off elections in the state of Georgia as the centerpiece of the waning electoral year. Entering the White House amidst a raging pandemic, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris may have one of the most unconventional and challenging starts to a presidency. The Biden-Harris administration brings a new tone to the federal government’s pandemic response, which will have to grapple with a unique set of challenges in distributing the vaccine, rebuilding the economy, and overcoming the post-election rifts between Democrats and Republicans.
The election of Joe Biden will shift leadership in Washington, D.C. from a populist Republican to an institutionalist Democrat with a record of working across the political aisle. Congress spent the majority of 2020 embroiled relief negotiations, frustrating the American people and severely hindering economic recovery. The Biden-Harris administration will have to navigate Congress’s partisan gridlock and could face either consistent opposition or a renewed sense of bipartisanship if the Republicans maintain their majority in the Senate following the Georgia run-offs.
For the hotel owner, the incoming administration’s policies on the small business loan programs, the commercial real estate market, and vaccine distribution are center stage. The AAHOA Government Affairs team is working with Congress and the incoming administration to provide banking relief, expand lending from the Small Business Administration through the 7(a), Paycheck Protection Program, 504, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and other critical programs.
On Jan. 5, 2021, voters in Georgia will ultimately decide which party controls the Senate. Republicans have already secured 50 seats, pressuring Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to win their respective races against incumbents Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler. As President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris await inauguration, the prospects of a split Congress, and ultimately the strength of the Democrats’ policy 2021 pursuits, remain up in the air.
SENATE CONTROL HINGES ON GEORGIA’S SENATE RUN-OFF ELECTIONS
Leading up to the run-off elections, Republicans have secured 50 Senate seats to the Democrats’ 48 (which includes two independent Senators who caucus with the party). Should the Democratic candidates unseat the two Republican incumbents in Georgia, Vice President-elect Harris would serve as the tiebreaking vote in any 50-50 splits in the Senate, giving Democrats the edge in both chambers of Congress. Under the Trump administration, Vice President Mike Pence cast 13 tiebreaking votes, setting the stage for Vice President-elect Harris to follow suit if the Democratic candidates win out in Georgia.
Georgia, which has not been carried by a Democratic Presidential candidate since 1992, was narrowly won by President-elect Biden. Georgia has become one of the most politically competitive states in this election cycle, with both parties expanding their campaign efforts in the state following the announcement of the two run-off elections, which were triggered after no candidate was able to secure 50 percent of the vote on Election Day.
The polling data shows both races to be heavily contested. As incumbents in a historically Republican state, Sen. Perdue and Sen. Loeffler have held a slight advantage in polling data, yet as election day draws closer, the races appear to be highly contested. Sen. Perdue won 49.7 percent of the vote to challenger Jon Ossoff’s 48 percent. In the special election, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, splitting the Republican vote with Rep. Doug Collins (GA-09), received 25.9 percent of the vote to challenger Raphael Warnock’s 32.9 percent. As in every run-off election, both parties are seeking to combat political fatigue and drive voter engagement. With the control of the Senate in the balance, we can expect the elections to be extremely competitive.
THE PROSPECTS OF A DIVIDED CONGRESS
Like most election years, 2020 saw intensified partisan divide and political infighting. Following the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. struggled even within their own parties to legislate and pass an additional round of COVID-19 economic relief. In the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans saw their majority positions slimmed down, or in the case of the Senate, potentially evaporate. A divided legislature could promote opportunities for compromise and a sense of equal representation of one’s priorities at the federal level.