Democrats swept both Georgia Senate runoffs on January 5, 2021, flipping control of the Senate to Democrats by the narrowest of margins for the next two years. This Advisory provides an analysis of the potential executive and legislative branch actions over the next two years under a Biden Administration, working closely with an all-Democratic Congress.
On November 3, former Vice President Joe Biden was elected the 46th President of the United States. It took months and two run-off elections for Georgia's Senate seats to sweep in a Democratic Senate as well. The populism that drove the 2016 election of President Trump yielded to Joe Biden's call for a return to political normalcy, which resonated with millions of swing-state voters exhausted by the nonstop political drama surrounding President Trump.
Under normal circumstances, the election of a vice president to the White House would represent a third term for his president, but President-elect Biden faces a unique situation that is far from presiding over the third term of Barack Obama's presidency.
Extraordinary acts of political violence unfolded on January 6 at the US Capitol, incited by the words of the sitting President, and intended to undermine public trust in the federal government at the very moment Congress was concluding the constitutional process for validating the presidential election. The repercussions of those seditious acts will be profound and long-lasting in our country, even if the immediate days following are too soon and too difficult to understand or project specific political or policy responses. The Biden presidency already was set to focus on reuniting Americans, but now that goal takes on an even more meaningful sense of urgency and necessity.
In two weeks, Joe Biden will be sworn atop an all-Democratic government that must immediately address a one-year-old global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on all elements of American society. President-elect Biden's campaign slogan was "Build Back Better," and the central elements of that platform will become the key elements of his early policy priorities. Finding the healthcare pathways to let the American economy reopen in full and repairing the economic destruction resulting from the pandemic are the two issues most likely to define the Biden presidency.
As with four years ago, America remains deeply divided politically, with fault lines on race, gender, age, educational level, and income level. President-elect Biden has promised unity, but it will be challenging to bridge the divides that define the nation today. An all-Democratic Congress may consider limiting or abolishing the filibuster, which will curtail the ability of the minority party to slow or stop legislative work. Even under such a rule change, however, the Senate will still operate differently than the House, given the broader state-wide concerns that influence Senate offices as opposed to the generally more compact congressional districts of an individual House member. Nevertheless, a Senate without the filibuster means bipartisan legislation will be even rarer in the future.
Across the aisle, four years of President Trump remade the Republican party in his confrontational image, and the party abandoned many of its long-held political positions. The post-election histrionics of President Trump first created a wedge inside the Republican party between establishment figures and the President's core supporters. The wedge made the Georgia run-offs about President Trump instead of the potential downside of an all-Democratic Washington, and the result was Republicans losing both Georgia run-off races and control of the Senate on January 5. Less than 24 hours later, the intra-party wedge turned into a vast chasm as the riots unfolded at the Capitol. A small handful of Senate Republicans still insisted on objecting to the completion of the electoral college process, standing with President Trump, and it seems unlikely any of those Republicans can ever be the future leader of their party. Republicans did well in House of Representatives and state-level races in 2020, and that would normally give them a meaningful chance to win back the House in 2022. The riots and mob rule of January 6 may echo for years in ways that reduce the traditional pool of Republican supporters across the country and assign them to long-term minority status in Washington. Today, unlike any previously defeated political party in American history, Republicans face an existential period of post-election reflection, not about how best to compete at the federal level, but about what they stand for, and about what they will and will not tolerate in the pursuit of their political ambitions.
2020 was yet another "change" election in terms of party control—the White House changed hands for the fourth time and the Senate changed control for the fifth time in twenty years. This is a unique change election, as the President-elect has been in Washington for 50 years and will be working with a Democratic leadership team whose members also have been in Congress for decades. The leadership team's experience in the legislative and executive branches will go a long way towards defining their collective success in the next four years. Meanwhile, behind the scenes at the White House and the House of Representatives, Democrats will engage in a quiet but intense battle to secure the inside lane to be the next generation of Democratic leadership.
Our analysis discusses how major policy issues and economic sectors will fare in the first two years of the Biden Administration and the incoming 117th Congress. A team of dozens of Arnold & Porter professionals spanning a range of practices prepared this report. Our team is available at any time to talk with you about how best to engage Washington policymakers to achieve your business objectives.
Please read on for more of our overview of the 2020 election's impact on the future in Washington, or click one of the links below to jump directly to an analysis of the policy sectors that interest you most.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.