By Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell, Reuters
Democrats took control of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday when Vice President Kamala Harris swore in three new members to give the party a narrow grip on both houses of Congress as well as the White House for the first time in a decade.
Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Alex Padilla of California took the oath of office in the Senate chamber hours after President Joe Biden was sworn in.
Warnock and Ossoff won upset victories in a pair of Jan. 5 runoff elections to split the Senate 50-50 with Harris, a Democrat, holding the decisive vote in any tie between Republicans and Democrats.
Padilla, California’s first Latino senator, was appointed to fill Harris’s Senate seat after she resigned on Monday to take the oath of office as vice president on Wednesday.
The three Democrats give Biden a narrow advantage to pursue policies that include a fresh wave of relief for a nation hammered by the coronavirus pandemic in the face of deep political divisions.
The new arrangement makes Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer the majority leader, with Republican Mitch McConnell demoted to minority leader.
Schumer and McConnell are in talks about a possible power-sharing deal governing daily Senate operations, similar to one struck two decades ago. Both men favor making such an agreement, but McConnell has asked to keep the rules requiring a supermajority of 60 votes to advance most legislation.
The shifting Senate control has complicated already-delayed efforts to get Biden’s Cabinet nominees confirmed.
In past years, at least some national security nominees have been confirmed on Inauguration Day, but none appeared to be ready for a Senate floor vote on Wednesday. The first committee hearings on five of Biden’s Cabinet nominees were only held the day before.
The new Senate is also poised to hold former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial on a charge of inciting insurrection passed by the House last week after his supporters stormed the Capitol.
Democrats also hold a 221-211 majority in the House of Representatives.
Warnock, a 51-year-old Baptist preacher who never before held political office, is the first Black senator to represent Georgia. He held the pulpit in Atlanta where slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
Ossoff, 33, is the youngest senator sworn in to the Senate since Biden, who took office in 1973 at the age of 30.
The first Jewish senator from Georgia, Ossoff was sworn in on a book of Hebrew scripture that belonged to Atlanta Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, a close ally of King.
“I’m really looking forward to getting down to work and delivering the kind of investment in public health and vaccine distribution and the direct economic relief that people send us here to fight for,” Ossoff told reporters in the Capitol earlier Wednesday.
Padilla, 47, has been California’s secretary of state since 2015. Previously he served in the state Senate and spent over seven years on the Los Angeles City Council, five of them as council president.