The Senate Needs Strong Democratic Voices

The Senate Needs Strong Democratic Voices

Stacey Abrams, please change your mind.

Earlier this week, upon hearing news of the impending retirement of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Abrams released a statement saying that she would not seek the seat. That’s too bad.

Georgia isn’t a purple state quite yet — it still has a reddish hue — but Abrams, former minority leader of the Georgia Senate, likely stands a better chance than any other Democrat of re-coloring the electoral map by capturing the seat. While she lost her bid for governor last year, she finished with a very respectable total, winning 48.8 percent of votes cast. It was the closest race for governor in Georgia since 1966, according to political experts.

If the reign of Mitch McConnell has taught us anything (aside from the truth of that old adage about the link between power and corruption), it’s that the U.S. Senate is critically important in determining the fate of the nation. Americans naturally focus on the authority of the president; the man or woman who inhabits the Oval Office is believed to hold the power to correct the economy, safeguard our constitutional rights and defeat our enemies abroad. But Congress is a co-equal branch of government, and the upper chamber has been given a special role by the U.S. Constitution.

As long as Trump-happy Republicans remain in charge, the federal judiciary will steadily harden into a formidable barrier against progressive forces; protections for the environment and consumers will continue to erode; and corporations and the wealthy will continue to enjoy special political privileges that lay waste to the concept of the common good. The obstructionist rule of Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, has been especially detrimental.

Even as minority leader, McConnell used protocol and procedure to gum up the works, preventing President Barack Obama from passing many of his legislative priorities. In 2010, McConnell infamously declared that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He didn’t achieve that, but he did manage to derail many of the president’s second-term priorities. When Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2014, McConnell’s talent for forcing party discipline helped him to block Obama’s last U.S. Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland.

The Trump presidency has merely magnified McConnell’s power, not only his ability to force through right-wing Supreme Court justices but also to block commonsense policies. McConnell has even refused to allow a vote on a bill, already passed by the House of Representatives, that would give states more money to protect their elections from foreign interference. Why?

Still, he has good reason to be optimistic that his malignant reign will continue. Electoral math and political terrain make 2020 a challenging year for Democrats hoping to take control of the upper chamber. They would have to hold on to every Senate seat they now control, and that won’t be easy. Alabama’s lone Democratic senator, Doug Jones, won his seat because of special circumstances — a vile opponent named Roy Moore — that worked in his favor. Jones is particularly vulnerable in his re-election bid.

In addition to retaining the seats they now control, Democrats need to pick up three seats currently held by Republicans. (That’s if Democrats win the White House; if Trump is re-elected, Democrats would need to pick up four seats for effective control.) While 23 Republican senators are up for re-election next year, most are in states considered likely or certain GOP territory.

Isakson’s announcement, though, makes one formerly certain seat a little less so.

His replacement, who will be named by Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, will surely be a hardcore conservative, and that new senator will bring the advantage of incumbency to the campaign in 2020. But he or she won’t have Isakson’s stature.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should get serious about including Georgia in next year’s prospects, starting with recruiting an excellent candidate. Getting rid of McConnell ought to be every bit as compelling as getting rid of Trump.


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