Votes are still being counted and the winner of the presidential race remains uncertain, but the election results are shaping up to give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell significant leverage over a potential Joe Biden administration — and the Kentucky Republican is reportedly ready to use it to shape not just legislation but the Democratic administration itself.
We told you yesterday how the GOP’s likely hold on control of the Senate could scuttle the most ambitious and progressive plans of an incoming Democratic administration, from a larger stimulus bill to expansion of the Affordable Care Act to reversing some Republican tax cuts.
It’s still possible that Democrats will gain a 50-20 split in the Senate (a scenario that would require them to win runoffs for both Georgia seats), but some Democrats are already acknowledging they may have to set their sights lower and abandon plans to pass legislation through the Senate without relying on Republican votes by using a maneuver called “budget reconciliation” — the same way they had passed the Affordable Care Act and that Republicans pushed through their 2017 tax package.
“We all felt that we had the possibility of being able to really change the direction of the country, and that’s not looking like a realistic possibility right now,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) said, according to The Washington Post. “We had prepared a lot of memos on things like reconciliation that now we’re going to have to file away unless something crazy happens in the Senate.”
Instead, any major legislation is likely to involve conflict and compromise. “If Republicans keep the Senate, you can forget the Biden agenda, but divided government doesn’t mean there won’t be action. We’ll just be back to governing by conflict,” Brendan Buck, who was a top aide to former House speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), told the Post. “There will always be pressure points and funding deadlines that force action and force compromise.”
But continued GOP control of the Senate may give McConnell leverage to shape more than legislation. “Republicans' likely hold on the Senate is forcing Joe Biden's transition team to consider limiting its prospective Cabinet nominees to those who Mitch McConnell can live with,” Axios’s Hans Nichols and Mike Allen report. “A source close to McConnell tells Axios a Republican Senate would work with Biden on centrist nominees but no ‘radical progressives’ or ones who are controversial with conservatives.”
That reportedly could push Biden to drop some potential progressive Cabinet members in favor of centrist options more likely to be approved by Senate Republicans, like Lael Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, for Treasury secretary or Tony Blinken, who served in the Obama administration, for State.
"It's going to be armed camps," the source close to McConnell told Axios.