Understandably, most of our post-Election Day attention has been focused on the still-undecided presidential race (and specifically to the ongoing vote-counts in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada), but there are plenty of other races that have already been decided — with very concerning results. Regardless of who steps into the Oval Office, the president will have a hard time setting any agenda with a hostile Congress. That's why Democrats hoped that a Biden election would coincide with a so-called "blue wave," increasing the Democrat majority in the House, and turning the Senate blue. But, that didn't happen.
As of Wednesday night, the Senate map is at an even tie: 48 Republicans and 48 Democrats have won seats, and four races are yet to be called. Of those races, Republican senators are ahead in North Carolina and Alaska, and the races for both Republican-held seats in Georgia are neck and neck. “I was hoping that we would sweep to victory with a number of Senate wins,” Democratic Sen.-elect John Hickenlooper, who unseated Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado, said on MSNBC. “We’re still cautiously optimistic, but it’s not the level of excitement I was hoping to wake up to.”
With their candidates showing leads in those races, the Republican party's hopes of retaining control of the Senate and creating a wall of resistance against the potential Biden administration appear within reach.
So then, what happens if Joe Biden wins the presidency and has to lead a Republican-majority or evenly split Senate? Not much, probably — in the worst possible way. If the Senate maintains a Republican majority, Biden would be the first Democratic president since Grover Cleveland in 1885 to begin his presidency without Democratic control in the House and the Senate, reports the Los Angeles Times. This will make it incredibly hard to pass legislation, because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will still be in a position of extraordinary power to determine the success of the Biden administration.
What can Democrats do? Not much for at least two years, when voters will have another opportunity to vote in Senate races. In the meantime, we’ve seen what happens when branches of government are so divided that little — if any — progress is made, leaving voters to wonder whether politicians care more about representing the voices of their constituents or promoting their own egos. Coronavirus pandemic relief is a prime example. Proposals are bounced back and forth with small concessions, inflammatory statements, and performative pearl-clutching with no meaningful progress being made.
But as people suffer at the hands of a divided and indecisive government, many politicians are more concerned with relief being on their terms — even if relief was desperately needed months ago. With so many things in urgent need of addressing, the prospect of this divide across the branches of government resembles more of a ravine than a crack.
To further complicate things, Democrats have lost some of their influence in the House, with some truly fringe right-wingers having won elections this year. After receiving an excited endorsement from Trump himself, Marjorie Taylor Green – a candidate who openly promotes QAnon conspiracy theories – won a House seat in Georgia’s 14th district. Madison Cawthorn, who once said seeing Adolf Hitler’s vacation home in Germany was on his bucket list, is now the youngest Republican to ever be elected to Congress. He has also faced accusations of racism and sexual misconduct.
Despite all this, there is still reason to be hopeful: Republicans didn't, after all, take back the House, and there's still a chance that the Senate might end up as a 50/50 split, which would give tie-breaking power to the Vice-President, who — pending a Democratic win for the presidency — is going to be none other than Kamala Harris. And that's something to feel good about.